After we submitted our application, we waited for a couple of months. It was around October 20th of last year when I planned a trip to New York City to meet up with my fellow Thread (formerly Leather) co-founders. During this trip, something unexpected happened – I happened to glance at my email and noticed a message from Michael Seibel at Y Combinator. He informed us that we were scheduled for an interview in about a week.
The Pre-Game Warm-Up
Needless to say, I was thrilled that my spam filters hadn't filtered out that crucial email. More importantly, my New York trip suddenly became entirely focused on preparing for the Y Combinator interview. Over the next week, we dedicated ourselves to preparing for any and all potential interview questions. We even conducted a couple of mock interviews to refine our responses. We also met with a friend of Akeem's who mentioned he had experienced three separate interviews, with the second and third ones lasting an hour and taking place as more of a coffee chat, ultimately resulting in rejection. We hoped our interview would go more smoothly.
The Slam Dunk Reality Check
Anyway, the interview begins with Michael Seibel, Tom Blomfield, and Richard Aberman. I'm quite nervous because I have to give the initial elevator pitch. Just 10 seconds into my pitch, Tom cuts me off and says, "Okay, your idea has a low chance of getting in, but your team's backgrounds have a high chance of getting in." It feels like one and a half years of work are immediately discarded. I freeze, and Akeem, who was also passionate about this idea, freezes too.
Yuheng, being the champion he is, immediately starts brainstorming ideas on the spot. He suggests an idea to facilitate coffee meetings with colleagues, but Michael shoots it down. Each of us begins pitching ideas we've been wondering about, but they all get turned down.
The Bounce Back: From Rejection to Resilience
After the dust settled, Michael tells us that we appear "smart" (though I'm not sure how he came to that conclusion, looking back at our ideas). He suggests we go back to the drawing board and come up with better ideas. He promises to send us some resources on pivoting, and we plan to reconvene after Thanksgiving to brainstorm new concepts. We left that call with a sense of defeat but, more importantly, a determination to make the most of our second chance.
The next three weeks involved a lot of trial and error, hoping something would click. Eventually, Yuheng, drawing from his experience at Amazon, suggests the idea of helping engineers understand outages through a visual representation of a system, which we later identify as a service map. We believe this is our best shot at getting in, so we decide to lead with that idea. Akeem and I also have our separate ideas ready in case the first one gets rejected, as we were prepared for a longer conversation similar to an hour-long coffee chat.
The YC Interview Flu Game: Defying the Odds
The interview was originally set for a Wednesday, but on Monday of that week, Yuheng texted our group chat, saying he was extremely sick. Akeem and he were leaning toward rescheduling the interview. However, I disagreed because YC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they weren't overly eager to have us. So, we waited until Tuesday to consult our mentor in this process, who advised us against rescheduling. He mentioned hearing about people who had been in car accidents on their way to interviews and still went ahead on the same day.
Wednesday arrives, but Yuheng is no better. We're anxious, feeling like the odds are against us as we open Zoom to the same three partners we spoke with previously. Michael starts by asking if we've made any progress since our last conversation. What follows is a dialogue between Yuheng and Michael. I swear, Yuheng answered those questions better than we could even answer them now! I didn't say a single word throughout the entire interview. By the time it ended, I was so proud of Yuheng that I couldn't even put it into words.
He delved deeply in a way that could only remind me of the famous Michael Jordan flu game. I made a promise to Yuheng that if we did end up getting into YC, I would get him a framed jersey of Jordan's with a note from me saying "thanks for shooting for 38," referring to Jordan's famous point total in that game.
Scoring the YC Buzzer Beater: Sealing the Deal
Anyway, that night, we received an email from YC saying they had a few more questions for us. We were quite afraid it might be the dreaded third interview. So, we worked tirelessly that night, trying to absorb as much information about the field in such a short time. After all, we had pitched him nothing but air.
The next morning, we hopped on a call, and it was just Michael Seibel. He casually asked, "I just have one more question for you guys: would you like to be part of Y Combinator's Winter 2023 batch?" I nearly fell out of my chair.
What a wild ride, huh? We definitely went on an adventure, but a couple of lessons to take away are that the team matters most, and letting team members take their shots is essential. We also learned that anything can happen in a YC interview, so over-preparing might not help as much as you'd think. Best of luck, fellow entrepreneurs, and I hope you can learn a couple of things from our interview story!