Ah, Y Combinator ! The holy grail of many budding startups. Having helped start companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and Twitch, YC is so well known that getting into their program basically guarantees a large round of funding. Not to mention the connections, advice, and brand status the company will gain that's worth all the journey to get there.
But the process of landing a spot at this prestigious Bay Area seed accelerator is not that easy. That's why our team at Assemblr were so excited about our first invitation to a YC interview.
Anita Yustisia, our beloved CCO, still remembers that moment well.
"On our interview in November 2017, we have launched Assemblr Open Beta in two weeks and got our first 1700 beta users. Nothing could compare that certain feeling where we got people who would actually try our app — it was exhilarating."
At the very same day of the interview, though, we got our rejection e-mail. It was heartbreaking for us, but we recovered in no time.
"We quickly reviewed the main issue and the interviewers’ concern as we also had the reason of our rejection written on the e-mail," recalled Anita. "We were very thankful to have the privilege of getting direct feedbacks from the YC partners whom interviewed us."
The second interview
On the 18th of April 2018, our team received our second invitation letter to a YC Interview. What was also surprising is the fact that we didn’t have to go through a Skype call interview, again. We were excited and couldn’t wait to recite the answers to the YC questions that we’ve always practiced.
"What kept us on fire was that we had a huge improvement in terms of growth and app performance. We had 1 million downloads, 350k registered users, 750k user creations with 40% growth month over month, $0 customer acquisition cost, got featured by Google Play on our open beta phase and last but not least, we’re in the middle of a discussion with Apple for a chance to be featured on AppStore’s Editor’s Pick."
So off we go to the Silicon Valley. After a long flight from Indonesia, our co-founders arrived in San Francisco on 5th of May 2018. The team had a lot of practicing prior to the the interview day and a lot of mentorship from the previous YC alumni, Hendra from PayFazz and Steven from Yukepo. And not to forget Anderson from Stanford who helped them practice and gave insights.
As our team got in to the interview room, our CCO was shook as one of our interviewer was Michael Seibel himself, CEO of Y Combinator. Along with other interviewers: Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Pebble and Holly Liu, founder of Kabam.
"The interview took more than 10 minutes as they were diving deeply in to the tractions. And along the interview, Michael was inspecting our statistic on AppAnnie. It was shocking for us, as our previous interview hadn’t any interviewer inspecting directly on our statistics – although they might’ve done it beforehand, but direct inspection made it more intense."
Pressure was on, but that didn’t stop our CEO to answer the questions concisely. The interview surprisingly took us about 20 minutes. "Our answers may not be convincing enough for them, but at least we have gotten in the interview room and did what we think was best," Anita said.
After our team stepped out of the room, we got informed that we’re going to have another interview in the end of the day. It was neither good nor bad — they needed to dig in more information.
Our team stayed around the area and while we waited for the next interview, we revised what we thought was essential from the previous interview. Our team realized that our answers might not be convincing enough for the interviewers, but at least we had the chance for another interview at 3.45 PM.
The next round
Our second interview that day was located at the building across the road. As the team got in to the interview room, our co-founders shook hands with our interviewers: Stephanie Simon, admissions manager of Y Combinator, and Gustaf Alströmer, product lead (growth) of AirBnB.
"The interview went well, and it was more of an app demo rather than dissecting the numbers. We were very excited to show the interviewers what progress we have made so far as Gustaf has seen our app on our previous visit to the Bay Area last month."
After the interview, our team headed straight back to San Antonio Road and went to Walmart to purchase some food for dinner. "As we arrived in the apartment, we just sat on the sofa and turned on Netflix — it was an exhausting day!" said Anita.
Our CTO, Risnandar, and CEO, Hasbi, fell asleep as they reclined. Anita stayed awake, though.
"I sat on the sofa and had this thought over and over again. The only thing that kept me awake at noon was the fact that I have always believed that there were too many variables in our business and that it was an art rather than a science . I was wrong," Anita pondered.
"Data is the true essential of all. It hits me every time statistics and number speaks for itself. And if only business books was telling me to track/measure the key numbers from the beginning, maybe we could’ve levered what we got. It was time for some adjustments."
"After Hasbi woke up, we had a small talk and reviewed how the interviews went. After the talk, Hasbi opened his laptop and an e-mail notification slides on the upper corner of his screen," recalled Anita.
"We all know that if you ever get accepted, they will call you, and if you get rejected, they will send you an e-mail. Hasbi and I read the e-mail thoroughly. It was disappointing for a second, but what made us got back on our foot were the feedbacks they gave us on that e-mail. It made us stronger and we couldn’t wait to implement more improvements on our app and growth."
Our co-founders remembered having steak for dinner that night (not to forget they got the smoke detector chirping for having too much smoke from basting the steak with too much butter!). Everything just got better. Later on they had a Skype call with our team in Indonesia and we discussed about how the interview went and what things are needed to be iterated.
Despite our failure, it definitely wasn’t waste of time. Going to YC interviews was a big part of our journey to build Assemblr. We learned what seed accelerators like YC are looking for, we learned how to present ourselves and our company, but the most important part is that we aligned more on what our company’s mission is.
Our first interview, on November 2017, was the time where we made choices to our app and lead us to where we are now. And hopefully, our second and third will lead us to a greater tomorrow.
Can’t wait to see what the future brings!