Be Concise! – The Top Questions Asked At A Y Combinator Interview

As of yesterday Y Combinator began its marathon series of interviews to decide which startup teams will ultimately go through the – now world-renowned – program. Interviews go on for five days. Rumours that people have been seen running screaming from the building shouting “The Horror!” have not been confirmed. But I’m currently in the Valley catching up with one or two of those European hopefuls trying to get into Paul Graham’s good books – indeed I bumped into one team at San Francisco’s SFO airport. Turns out the YC pitch document I saw being worked on a laptop on the plane over was for Stackblaze. The guys behind it, James Cunningham and Colin Hayhurst, also put together a cute web app full to the brim with the kinds of typically blunt questions you get asked at a YC interview.

You can check it out here, and subject yourself to the same torture as all those YC hopefuls.

Colin tells me he curated them from various YC pages and a big variety of blog posts by past applicants. “James wrote the app in an hour. It runs on StackBlaze, of course!” We gather that Francis Dierick has done a similar iPhone app to practice his own interview.

On the app, you have 15 seconds to respond to each question, and get given pro-tips like, “DO NOT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH” and “Answer like you would in a conversation, this is not a presentation”. Once you’ve answered you hit return and get another question. Fail to answer in 15 seconds and a sad looking Paul Graham will appear telling you you’ve failed…

But to help you brush up for the interview, we’ve downloaded some of the questions the YC grillers will ask. Many, coincidentally, are the kinds of questions the media will ask you about your startup. So not a bad list to brush up on. Here they are below, though as you can tell they are not in an sort of order.

Feel free to leave a few suggestions of your own in the comments.

Typical Y Combinator Interview Questions

So what are you working on?

Have you raised funding?

What makes new users try you?

What competition do you fear most?

What’s the worst thing that has happened?

Will you reincorporate as a US company?

What’s an impressive thing you have done?

Where is the rocket science here?

Why did you pick this idea to work on?

Why do the reluctant users hold back?

Who would you hire or how would you add to your team?

What problems/hurdles are you anticipating?

Who is “the boss”?

What is the next step with the product evolution?

What obstacles will you face and how will you overcome them?

Who needs what you’re making?

How does your product work in more detail?

What are you going to do next?

What do you understand that others don’t?

Where do new users come from?

How big an opportunity is there?

Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you?

Tell us something surprising you have done?

Who are your competitors?

What’s new about what you make?

How many users do you have?

Why isn’t someone already doing this?

What are the top things users want?

What is your burn rate?

How do you know customers need what you’re making?

What domain expertise do you have?

What, exactly, makes you different from existing options?

What’s the conversion rate?

What systems have you hacked?

Who would use your product?

How will customers and/or users find out about you?

Why did your team get together?

In what ways are you resourceful?

What is your distribution strategy?

What has surprised you about user behaviour?

What part of your project are you going to build first?

What resistance will they have to trying you and how will you overcome it?

How are you understanding customer needs?

What’s the biggest mistake you have made?

Who might become competitors?

What do you understand about your users?

What is your user growth rate?

What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?

Who is going to be your first paying customer?

If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?

Who would be your next hire?

How do you know people want this?

Would you relocate to Silicon Valley?

What do you know about this space/product others don’t know?

How much money could you make per year?

How long can you go before funding?

How will you make money?

Will your team stick at this?

How much does customer acquisition cost?

How did your team meet?

Who in your team does what?

How are you meeting customers?

How many users are paying?

How is your product different?

Are you open to changing your idea?

How do we know your team will stick together?

What is your growth like?