How we tanked our YC interview
And my Theory of Finite Failures.
Ty and I sat in our living room facing our 27" iMac, positioning ourselves so that Michael Seibel could see both of us. I’ve never been star-struck in my life, but this has got to be a mild form of it. It was a new emotion because it wasn’t that I was nervous or scatterbrained, as much as I was in awe at the fact that I was about to meet someone whom I had spent hours listening to while coding all summer long. Over the summer, I had asked Ty a question, “If we could choose any investors in the world to be on our starting-five Dream Team, who would we choose?” We came to the conclusion that we’d choose Gary V, Jeremy Liew, Chris Sacca, Ashton Kutcher and Michael fucking Seibel. Here we were, about to meet one of our starting five, and we only had 24 hours to imagine what the next 15-minute interview was going to be like.
Obviously, from the article title, you can guess that everything we had imagined was incredibly wrong.
How did we even get here?
Well, the first thing you should know about me is that I am such a sore loser. I do not like to lose, but when I do, I embrace it with immense ownership. I do not tuck my tail in and crawl back under the rock from which I came. I replay the situation in my head(or on our whiteboard) until I have learned everything that I can from it, in an effort to never make the same mistakes twice. Then I do this over and over until I win; simple.
I first began this practice when I first started coding. I realized that failure was actually a huge part of the success of my code. Nothing I coded was ever right the first time, or second time, or third, but as long as I learned from every single failure, I knew I was getting closer and closer to a successful function.
Over time I began to develop a theory about failure that I now refer to as the Theory of Finite Failures.
We live in a linear universe. First, it’s morning, then it’s afternoon, then it’s night. We are constantly being pulled into the future, so you know that even though it may only be 10 AM now, if you keep living, eventually, it’ll be 10 PM. Though you may only currently be reading page 7, you know that there are 300 pages and that if you keep reading, you will finish the book.Well, why don’t we think of failure in the same context?
What if you knew that in order to be successful, you would need to fail 1,000 times? The lessons that you learn from each failure become your ammo for the next round. Eventually, you will have so much ammo that your success would be guaranteed. More than likely you would begin trying to fail as many times as you could a day in order to speed up the process, right?
I began believing this about my code- every time it fails, it gives me valuable information as to what the correct function is not, so eventually I will find out what it is, because there is a finite amount of what it is not, and if I learn everything I can from everything it is not, I can find out what it is faster and more efficiently.
So, this past summer, Ty and I began our first (what we are calling) Accelerator Season.
We’d spend the next 3 months applying to 10 accelerator programs with CollegeHive.
I knew that more than likely we wouldn’t get any accelerators to accept CollegeHive, but hopefully, we would learn so much that we can apply again next year more prepared. We applied to 9 accelerators and got rejected from all 9. We learned from each rejection and pivoted with every application. We began to get further and further into the acceptance process. One accelerator told us we were in the top 25 rejected companies. We thought that was pretty cool, and I summarized everything we learned thus far in my previous article here. Then, we applied to our 10th and favorite accelerator program, Y Combinator. It was the last application of the season, and we didn’t expect to get far. We put in our application on time and went on about our lives.
To our surprise, last week, we got a random email from YC prompting us to get on a video call with them, as they needed “more information”. We were so naive. We had no idea this was even an interview until we got on the call and saw the word “interview” at the top of the web page, next to the phrase “with Michael Seibel”. So here we were- holy-shitting.
The 15 minutes felt like 30 seconds. There was no small talk and we explained about CollegeHive as if he already knew everything about it. Our answers were half-baked and we didn’t communicate our advantages or knowledge of the problem well at all. Once it as over, Ty and I looked at each other and we knew that there as no way we were getting invited out to California for an in-person interview.
Ty was pretty bummed for the rest of the day. I was actually on a bit of a high until the next day. Yes, this was a failure, but it was packed with so many lessons. This just gave us so much ammo for our next Accelerator Season and solidified that we are moving forward along our line of finite failures. This failure was so much more impactful and more meaningful than the failure from our first accelerator rejection, and if we just keep failing forward, I believe we will eventually find out so much about what it is not, that we will have stumbled upon what it is.
See ya next season!
— I’m a coder, designer and podcast host
@FeleciaGenet on Twitter & Instagram.