My YC Interview Experience (W21)

https://hershalb.com/my-yc-interview-experience-w21/

I interviewed with YC for the W21 batch during the Coronavirus pandemic. I was rejected. The experience was unique and helped me think about our product in a different light. I would highly recommend applying to anyone who is hoping to pursue their goal of entrepreneurship further. If not for the YC brand, apply to see what people, who look at thousands of companies every quarter, think about your product and (if you get the chance) have them dump on you and your product for 10 minutes.

You can also take a look at this article at: https://hershalb.com/my-yc-interview-experience-w21/

TLDR;

  • Get as much user feedback as possible
  • Understand your distinct advantages within the competitive landscape
  • Determine the pros/cons for your methods of monetization

Overview of Our Product

This may seem like a shameless plug, but I am adding this section here to help explain the critiques of our product. Feel free to skip this section, but you might miss out on a few details that might help describe their objections and an awesome product (okay that was the shameless plug).

Problem 1: Sharing Music is Annoying

After graduating college, my friend and I decided to stay connected by sharing music with each other, but we quickly realized that the process is pretty irritating. Songs that we sent to each other over iMessage/Messenger got lost in chats and there was no easy way to save the music for later. The process was made even more vexing by the difference in our choice of music provider, he used Spotify and I used YouTube (don’t make me explain this).

Problem 2: Cross-Platform Music

Relatively a smaller problem given the amount of music that exists on providers such as Spotify and Apple Music, but we realized that it was hard to track our favorite songs from multiple platforms. Sometimes songs were only available on certain platforms like SoundCloud, but it wasn’t possible to have one place to listen to your favorite songs from both Spotify and SoundCloud combined.

Problem 3: Social Music lacks Innovation

Problem 3 was more of an observation/theory than an issue we had a solution for. We read an article (I lost track of it since) which stated that most of the time people listen to music it’s a “background experience”, meaning we only listen while driving/showering/doing chores without really paying too much attention or actively engaging. I felt that making music more of an active experience could create a new way of thinking about how people interact with music. One way to do this, for example, was to make discovering music more entertaining.

I hate discovering new music (it’s too much work and I don’t enjoy spending time listening to a song I won’t like), so most of my new music recommendations come from friends (another reason why a social platform was necessary). However, what if there was a way to “gamify” the experience of discovering music? Playing games that involved listening to new songs would remove the dread (for me) of having to spend time hearing outside my preferred taste.

Problem 3 provided for the most interesting aspect of our product, creating “Music Experiences” to enhance online social experiences around music. We started brainstorming what type of “Experiences” we could offer. One of our ideas had been to take the popular pandemic game of skribbl.io (pictionary) and refit it to be a musical game. Users could join all room and, each turn, a player would pick a song that the other players would have to guess. The more we thought about it, the more we believed that experiences like these were a missing piece of musical activities.

Solution: MusFuse — The Social Music Platform

We created MusFuse (about), to initially solve the more prevalent and defined problems 1 and 2 while we continued to ponder solutions for problem 3. The platform allows users to create Circles where friends can share music from any music provider. In addition, users can sign into Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube accounts and directly listen to songs within a Circle, regardless of their provider. Users finally had one place where they could listen to music from multiple providers and share music with friends.

YC Interview

Getting the invitation to interview with YC is always exciting, especially since the % of accepted interviews is higher than the % of invitations to interview. Since our interview was during a pandemic, we didn’t go to the office in Mountain View that previous founders experienced, but scheduled a Zoom session for 1:30.

Preparation

I’ll briefly explain what our team did to prepare and what worked for us. I will also link a couple of the resources we used at the bottom of the article.

While preparing for the interview experience we gathered common questions, that previous batches had seen, and brainstormed our best answers. We also discussed questions we thought the interviewers would ask, specifically in relation to our competitive landscape. Since we were a team of two, we decided to split up the questions by topic so that, during the interview, we wouldn’t be struggling to figure out who would answer which questions (this did not work and I only recommend it under certain circumstances, will explain later).

I also tried to understand the format of the questions that would be asked by looking through the YC “Office Hours” on YouTube and watching a bunch of those videos. I attempted to establish how the YC partners were dissecting teams’ products and suggesting methods of improvement. This was fun because it: 1) Provided benefits outside of just the interview process, including how to improve user acquisition, and 2) Determine the type of questions they might ask.

In addition to preparation, we thought it would be good to hear what reaction other communities had to provide. We decided to do a quick launch on Product Hunt and Hacker News to understand issues that users might have before migrating to a new service. It doesn’t have to happen before your interview, but I recommend sharing your product (if possible) on these platforms because it provides a good base of feedback for your application.

Interview

The interview started at 1:30. You’ll probably hear this a lot but I cannot emphasize this enough: 10 minutes has never gone by faster in my life. As soon as we got on the Zoom call there were three other partners that joined the call, of which two asked most of the questions. It was brutal. They wasted no time in cutting through to their main point of concern.

“Why would people choose your product over Spotify”

We anticipated this question. Obviously. Not sure if it was the pressure of the interview, or just the directness of the queries without foreplay, but every plan that we had put in place went to shit. As I mentioned before, splitting up questions by topic was not a great idea for our team since the gears operating that part of my brain just short-circuited. For teams of multiple people, I suggest having one person handle a majority of the interview with the second chiming in whenever necessary.

After a brief lapse, we recovered and started discussing the benefits of our product over Spotify. Our solution was geared towards creating a platform that allows for an easy and seamless experience with which to share music with others. In addition, we supported many providers in case other users kept their music in multiple places like we do (i.g. on Spotify and SoundCloud).

A big part of the interview hinged on the concern that users would not switch to a new platform just to share songs with other people. Sharing music over text or messages is not enough of an inconvenience to users for them to sign up for a new service. Furthermore, small features on Spotify could compensate for these issues quickly and then getting a relatively cheap $10 subscription to Spotify would be the only barrier to easily sending songs to friends. It was important to the interviewers that we clarify the competitive advantage of our product. Pay attention to this before your interview.

We knew these questions were coming, but, either we did a poor job of explaining our answers, or the solution wasn’t convincing enough to explain to the interviewers why our product would be amazing for music aficionados. MusFuse would create new social experiences around music (ex. musical games with friends online), a space that hasn’t really been explored and could create a new niche that “power music listeners” would want to be a part of. In addition, sharing music with friends on a singular platform from multiple providers was another key to our success. The interviewers felt that the new “niche” we were looking to create might not even be one that people wanted.

Another source of friction had to do with our ideas for monetization. Our initial thoughts were that new artists would be able to promote themselves on the platform and we would run music related ads (only visual). This only further pushed the interviewers to believe that people wouldn’t switch to our platform. “Why would customers want to use a service with ads when they are paying for Spotify to remove them?” Fair point. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of the pros/cons for your method of monetization. I believed that our current drafts for methods of income shouldn’t be weighted too heavily since we could iterate on the ideas we had, but, at this point in the interview, I felt that we had lost the interviewers’ faith.

We immediately knew we would be rejected. Maybe it’s hindsight bias, but I was confident that we didn’t win them over. Later that day received an email: “…As you could certainly discern from the interview, we began with some skepticism that a new music app would add sufficient value to persuade millions of users to switch from whatever experience(s) they are most used to on Apple, Spotify, or elsewhere…”. Our pitch for a new music social experience just didn’t cut it.

The interview experience is great and really makes you take a second look at what you are building. I highly recommend it, but prepare yourself. I am sure, no matter what, you will come out of the evaluation better off. Hope this helped

Resources

Hello, I’m Hershal Bhatia, currently a Software Engineer at Amazon – AWS where I am building out a new service. Check out more at www.hershalb.com

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