Sunday, February 10, 2013

Memeja YCombinator Interview Experience

I wanted to collect my thoughts before posting on Memeja again.

Here's brief timeline of our progress:

  • Spring 2012:  Won $16,500 at Dartmouth's Entrepreneurship Competition:
  • Summer 2012:  Hardcore development begins. Iterated different prototypes and interviewed students for market feedback.
  • Fall 2012: Moved to San Francisco with another co-founder. 
    • Demo'ed Memeja with UC Berkeley students. Iterated based on needs. 
    • 8-11 hours of coding everyday (according to RescueTime app).

In Nov 2012, Memeja interviewed for the YCombinator Winter 2013 batch. 
Here's our application video: (just one small video piece of a written app)

We read somewhere that  10% of applicants get an interview, so needless to say, we were excited. We started to dream, which I think anybody can relate to.  Because at that moment, our derivative seemed so positive.

YCombinator interviews are quite short: 10 minutes, in total.

What did we do to prepare?

We spent a majority of the 2 weeks before the interview talking to YCombinator alums for advice. We also spent lots of time coding new features based on our analysis of the market feedback. We drilled the common questions, ad nauseum, until we could reply to the following questions in 15 seconds or less:

  • How are you going to make money?
  • Who needs this application? How do you know they need it?
  • What is Memeja? etc. 

It turns out, none of this helped a great deal.  In retrospect, we should have spent the majority of the time actually spreading word about the product to gain enormous traction (we had < 100 users from UC Berkeley at that point).

Three days before the actual inteview, we went to the YCombinator HQ in Mountain View every day. I would recommend any prospective interviewee to do the same! It's absolutely amazing to see what other people are working on. We saw things from 3D printing vending machines to a Yelp for people.

We eventually saw that we were to interview with Paul Graham. One of my tech heroes! It was unbelievable. But we had also heard from other YC alums that PG was incredibly skeptical of Internet memes. Looking on the bright side, we thought that if we could convince PG, we could convince anybody.

When we were called for the actual interview, Max and I breathed each other in, which is a trick I learned from Acting class at Dartmouth. We make eye contact and breathe synchronously.

I remember walking into the interview room and shaking hands with Paul Graham and the other YCombinator partners.


The Actual Interview

Everything went by so quickly, it's hard to remember precisely what happened. Some questions I do remember...

  • Why aren't we based at Dartmouth instead of SF?  (we wanted to be in a startup hub)
  • Why hasn't this been done already?

I do remember Paul Graham scrolling through our live feed for at least a minute, saying nothing. That was the most intimidating portion of the interview.

Because Memeja is a social network based on memes, most of the rage comics are not under our control but rather, inside jokes between UC Berkeley students.

I remember all Paul Graham said at the end, scrolling through them was that "they were incomprehensible." Funny in retrospect, but quite nerve-wracking in the moment. As a consolation, PG said that he could see people using rage comics to send each other stories. He also commented that Dartmouth was "very hip" for awarding $16,500 to a memes startups.


Exiting the interview, Max and I agreed that the interview wasn't as intense as we thought it would be. Therein was the worry though!

I could be wrong (as I only have one data point) but I suspect that the intensity of the interview is a proxy for their interest. 


Overall, it was an interesting experience, an interview that was far different from other interviews I've been through.

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