On October 29th, I received an email that there were questions about my application for Y Combinator’s Winter 2014 cohort. I was surprised because our team had filmed our application video in one take and I had quickly answered the questions on the application. Our answers were brief. Event discovery is a very crowded space and our traffic was growing quickly. To stand out, I listed our current traffic in the elevator pitch question, “What is your team going to make?” I figured that line had the best chance of being read with the thousands of applications YC would receive. I had pressed submit without reviewing the application and forgot all about it.
These are the questions I received after they reviewed our application.
YC Question 1: This is a pretty obscure event. How do you know 8 people are attending?
My Answer: We know that 8 people have said that they are attending on Facebook.
YC Question 2: Can you please send us the url of a graph of unique visits per day since launch?
My Answer: Here is a link to a photo of our Google Analytics account: Facebook Post
On November 5th, I received an email asking if we could make it to Mountain View for a 10-minute interview in ten days. They were going to cover our travel up to $1100. We quickly booked our flights from Atlanta to San Francisco and an Airbnb on Castro.
I called Kyle Azevedo, the CEO of Viacycle, for advice for the interview. Viacycle was the only YC alum based in Atlanta that I knew. He got me in touch with his batch mates Nick Baum of StoryWorth and Aston Motes of YouThere. Everyone said pretty much the same thing. Have your answers ready and in one quick sentence and that YC hadn’t had any success with startups in the event space. Paul Graham, one of the founders of YC, had tried to get them to pivot the entire time they were in Mountain View.
Our interview was at 10:15am on Friday November 15th. We showed up caffeinated and a little early. The Y Combinator office doesn’t look like much from the outside. We watched multiple Teslas and a Fisker Karma pull into the parking lot. The doors were unlocked at 9:45 and we walked inside with a group of nervous and excited startups. Food and coffee was available but nerves kept us from eating.
In the interview the three of us sat across from four interviewers. The first question was “tell us what you do” and a flood of questions followed. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to demo Hugecity, which is normally the strongest part of our presentation.
One interviewer was on his phone playing with our app. Another was only interested in growth. I was able to satisfy him with a printout of different parts of our growth (see below). Another interviewer was only interested in engagement and another took notes.
It was a game about how many questions we could answer well in the time was given. There was confusion about how we were getting traffic, which sucked up part of our time. We also mentioned a small feature that had not been implemented yet and it took the conversation from 30,000 feet to 1,000 feet. It really showed how easily the conversation could be derailed. We had not read the fine print. YC is for founders only. They want everyone in the room to have at least 20% equity. One of the members of our team was not a founder even though we treated him like one.
It was surprising how quickly they honed in on our weakest link, user engagement. A regular user doesn’t look for events everyday or even every week. So, just like Yelp, we have to add an event review layer. We had identified what we wanted to add but there would still be a lot of experimentation to see what would stick. We wanted to use our three months at YC to do just that. There was a knock at the door and the interview was over before we knew it.
We were told that we would hear something that evening. I would get a call if we made it in or an email if we did not.
We visited Google for lunch. Then headed to the Computer History Museum to clear our heads. Then we went to the mecca of personal information, Facebook. We found out that Facebook only has three people running the largest event database on the planet and they don’t care about it because they don’t know what to do with it. “Events don’t move the dial for us.”
A little after six we got emails from the other startups we met in the morning. They had all been told that they did not make it in. 7PM came and went. My family was calling and every time our whole team jumped in excitement. Finally, at 8:11 we got an email saying that that they liked that Hugecity had seen growth in a space that most others had struggled in but they were concerned about our user engagement. “They did not know how to address our level of activity in terms of monthly visits/visitors, mobile app usage, and registration rates.”
Our trip to SF had us very excited. Ideas were pouring out of us before the interview. We were looking around for places to live and how much we would have to give up to live there with the higher cost of living. On the way to SFO we noticed New Relic and iPhone 5C billboards. We were the target market in San Francisco. On the way home form ATL we saw billboards for Krystal and a church at Six Flags.
The Hugecity team is taking a week to decompress after our trip. We are very happy and proud to have been invited out to Mountain View. We met so many awesome people and quickly learned a lot about what was going on in the event space. Stay tuned for more.
The chart I showed:
The chart I wish I had shown: