In September, 2016, Ritesh, CTO and co-founder of LoanMeet, decided to apply for Y Combinator, the best incubator in the world and it provides $120 K for 7% equity in the company. Y Combinator liked our application, and LoanMeet’s team cleared Skype Interview round. We had one in ten chance to succeed in the last round, but we failed in the last face-to-face interview round at San Fransico. This article is our story to Y Combinator, and lessons learnt during this trip.
Sunil Kumar, CEO and Co-founder of LoanMeet, was not very hopeful about the Y Combinator application, as he associated Y Combinator with successful startups such as AirBnb, Dropbox, and Heroku. In the Y Combinator application, we put details of Machine Learning credit model that we use to analyze credit worthiness of individuals, and Natural Language Processing module we planned to build to analyze intention of our borrowers to pay the EMIs. Ritesh took more than a day to fill the application, and he did a great job. We recorded a one-minute video, and it can be seen at https://youtu.be/03Yb20EN9Zo.
The Y Combinator team liked our application, and we received an email from Y Combinator office that we are selected for the next round. Along with LoanMeet, another startup, ConstaPark, was selected for the Skype interview round. Despite multiple attempts, we could not book Skype interview slot from the link provided by Y Combinator. We sent an email to Y Combinator, and they sent us an email at 2:00 AM ( Indian Standard Time ) that interview slots are open. On one fine night, we decided to stay awake all night, and keep checking for the Video interview slot. We got lucky, and we noticed
This was only 10 minutes round, and we had to share our startup details with Y Combinator in those 10 minutes. We did not prepare much for this round. Adora Cheung, Y Combinator partner, took our interview, and she wanted to understand the size of market for our startup. Adora, who was earlier co-founder of Homejoy, wanted to understand how much funds we need, and how can we grow our revenues by 100 times.
In the Skype interview, Ritesh took three minutes to answer the size of market, and our approach to provide loans to small businesses. Adora only had ten minutes for this minutes, so she cut us multiple times to get answers for specific questions. We did not research or prepare for this Skype interview, and it was a mistake on our part. We should have researched the questions asked by Y Combinator in Skype interview, and we should have prepared answers to those questions.
We were selected for the next round, and we were invited to San Fransico office of Y Combinator. This was a big moment for our startup, and we could not believe ourselves. In the middle of Diwali break, we had 10 days to get a US visa, book our flight tickets, prepare for the Y Combinator interview, and fly to US. We somehow managed to get appointment for US visa, and Sunil got Visa. Ritesh’s visa application was unfortunately denied, as the US immigration office believed that Ritesh might not come back to India after the US trip.
We packed our bags, and left for USA trip. Prior to the trip, we did not spend much time preparing answers to the standard Y Combinator questions. I guess we were just too excited about the prospect about going to Y Combinator, and meeting Sam Altman and other Y Combinator partners. Our flight was 24 hours long, and we were facing jetlag. At the San Fransico airport, we met a number of other startups who came for Y Combinator interview. We went through the questions, and stayed awake till 3 AM before the interview night. Ours was the first interview, and we think it went well, not super awesome or bad.
After coming out of interview, we spoke to a number of other startups. Many startups were called the second time, but we were not called. We felt that we could have done better, and we should have talked about our bigger vision. There were a number of startups from India, and no one was sure about their chances. We met a number of interesting startups, and we enjoyed talking to them. One startup founder said that the Y Combinator interview process is not fair, as the interview is most important judging criteria. I later heard that this startup got selected in the Y Combinator program.
We received a rejection email from Y Combinator in the same night, and we felt bad on receiving that email. Howewer, unlike other incubators and VCs, the YC partner wrote a paragraph about their concerns and thoughts. His concerns were valid, and we exchanged couple of emails about that. Looking back, I felt that we should have spent more time in preparing answers on Y Combinator questions. We must have done few more mock interviews with past successful Y Combinator selected startups.
I feel that every startup must apply for Y Combinator incubator program, and Y Combinator gives a fair chance to startups at all stages. A good number of startups applied to Y Combinator with an idea and execution plan, and got selected. The customer acquisition strategy and plans to expand exponentially must be well thought out. We learnt new lessons, and we are still using Y Combinator questions to refine our business strategy.