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Just did the Y Combinator interview: here are my notes (updated)

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Update 14-11-2019

Just got the dreaded rejection email! Bit disappointed, but not bitter or disillusioned at all. Reasons were:

  1. Unclear differentiator from Datadog except price: not sure if I fully agree. Probably need to tweak investor pitch to make this clear.
  2. Not having a cofounder: turns out solo-founding in my case was a stumbling block. I get that. Luckily, I have some happy news surrounding this topic very soon.


This afternoon I did the 10 minutes Y Combinator interview in Paris. It's for entry to the Winter 2020 batch. I'm excited, but also a bit divided. Here are my notes on:

  • The run up (skip this if you hate long stories)
  • Prepping (most useful info)
  • The interview
  • Next steps

The run up: Startup school

I joined the Y Combinator Startup School program this year mostly for the free AWS credit and Stripe credits. Not going to lie about that.

Startup school is a free program where you mix and mingle (IRL and online) with other startups, report on progress and follow online lectures made by the YC partners and alumni.

It was ok.

The chat roulette style weekly hookup with other startups was hit and miss. The weekly reporting didn't do much for me. The lectures were of high quality, but most were aimed at "lower maturity" startups. Which is totally fine, but still.

So, you can sense that I was a bit blasé.

However, some of the YC folks also put on a "Startup School roadshow" and they happened to hit Berlin. I signed up for the "office hours" and joined some of the partners for a 2,5 hour round table with about 12 other people in a then still highly valued WeWork location.

And this triggered something. I was quite impressed by the organization, intellectual skills and complete and utter lack of BS. I'm Dutch so I like that kind of stuff 🧀 🇳🇱.

Long story short: I decided to apply to YC for their winter 2020 batch, if not for the 15k equity free grant that could maybe come from that.


All the clichés about the "elevator pitch" are true. You REALLY need to be able to explain in short, simple sentences what you are doing.


The YC Berlin roadshow wrapped up with a short lecture followed by a Q&A. There were roughly 100 to 150 people in the room. 50% of the questions fired at the YC people went like this:

"So, yeah, like, we're like working on this thing, but then my cofounder quit, and now we have this customer who's really loving the product but then we hit a bug with Docker because it uses React in the Kubernetes and now, you know, I'd like to know if you reimburse travel cost when I do the interview and stuff"

You get it.

Order your thoughts. Keep it short. Communicate one idea in one sentence. etc. etc. etc. Here's my current elevator pitch for Checkly:

Checkly is a testing & monitoring SaaS for modern DevOps teams. Our customers use Checkly for three things:

  1. To test their application backends and frontends as they are developing new code.
  2. To monitor those same backend and frontends every minute, 24 x 7, after they go live in production.
  3. To get alerts and insights on when things break or get slow.

We’re bootstrapped, doing $3k MRR and growing 30% month over month.

Of course, could be better. But for a non-tech pitch it's pretty condensed.

And then — depending on how far you are along — you need to know the rest:

  • Numbers: Cost, price, MRR, growth (cash & customers), churn. If you are in SaaS get something like Chartmogul to make your life easy.
  • Where are you going? What's your vision?
  • Why will Microsoft or Amazon not f*cking kill you?
  • Why is your pricing so high / low / weird?

This blog post by a YC alumnus has a great set of sample questions. Just answer them in some Word document. Read them over a couple of times.

The interview

The actual interview was the right mix of casual and business.

Nice office of portfolio company Front in the Marais neighborhood in Paris. You wait in a lounge for 15 minutes. Have a drink of water. They had cool Lego stuff in the lounge to play with.

I was interviewed by three partners. The tempo is pretty high, but there is some room for jokes, anecdotes etc. The more you know your stuff, the quicker you answer the more time there is to show of your bubbly personality 😅...

....and it's over in 10 minutes. Which is incredibly short. So again, learn how to keep it short. Write down your stuff, then cut it in half. Then cut it in half again.

Next steps

This has so far been a ✨ glowing review ✨ of Y Combinator and their whole enrollment circus. And I honestly mean every word I said: It's a slick operation run by nice, driven people.

It's business, not "family". Just remember that.

But, is joining Y Combinator something for me, or for you?

  • Do you want to move to Silicon Valley for 3 months?
  • Do your cofounders want to do this?
  • Do you want to "go VC" at all?
  • Do you want to register your company in the US?
  • Do you want to give up 7% equity for $150k?
  • Do you even need the money?
  • Why not find some nice Angel investors and stake it out for another 18 months?
  • Is your company ready for this?
  • Why now?
  • Why?

To be 100% clear, I have no idea if Checkly is "in" yet — I'll find out within a week or so — but these are all questions running through my head.

As with any big business decision, it's nice to have options. I'm fairly bullish — sorry, reading Crash of the Titans —  on YC but have not 100% made up my mind whether this is the way to go. Hell, I did a whole Indiehackers interview recently.


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