YC Interview when English is not your first language
Interviewing at YC is hard – but interviewing at YC when you’re not a native English speaker is harder. Here are a few tricks that worked for us at Wit.ai (W14).
1- Speak slowly, articulate. It’s OK to have a strong accent (I do), but it makes it harder for the partners to understand what you say. They’re sitting in a room, listening to hundreds of pitches in a row for days. They are tired. Help them. As PG says if you don’t feel you’re speaking too slowly, you’re probably speaking too fast.
2 - Expect to be cut short about 10 seconds after you start to answer each question. Remove the bullshit preamble, the introductory parts of your sentences like “Yeah, actually, we’ve thought about this for a while, and that’s not an easy decision, ….” etc. Otherwise you’ll be cut before you start to really answer. These 10 minutes feel like 2. You don’t have time.
3 - Prepare your introduction. Over and over. The first question is always “so what do you guys do”. In many cases, the partners will spend the whole interview trying to figure this out. Needless to say, this is bad. Even if they eventually get it at the 10th minute, you’ll have had no chance to show your strengths and traction: you lost.
In order to put this initial question behind you as soon as possible, you need to prepare three things:
- A one-sentence, crystal-clear, sharp explanation of what you do
- A backup sentence explaining the same thing, but from a different angle in case they didn’t get the first one
- Concrete examples of who will use your product, and why These 3 things all serve the same purpose. At least one of them should work.
4 - Decide which are the 3 key ideas you want them to remember. And prepare 3 different sentences for each of these ideas. You mission is to use these sentences. The partners won’t remember 4 things about your company. Ever. Two would already be great (don’t forget that for most of the companies, they won’t even know what the company does at the end of the interview). The partners do their best to ask the right questions, but again: they are tired. You must help them find the essential stuff about your project.
5 - Don’t panic and keep your sense of humour. Everybody feels like shit after the interview. Everybody think they failed. The problem is, some people actually give up in the middle of the interview. Testing your resistance to pressure is part of the exam, but it might be harder to feel this when your culture is different. Keep smiling. Be firm but nice. Imagine which qualities are expected from a good startup CEO: this is exactly what the partners will expect from you during this interview.