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Deel’s Experience at Y-Combinator

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July 21, 2020
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In December last year, we had the pleasure to be accepted to the Y-Combinator. It was a fantastic experience, and as interviews for the next batch are up, we felt like it was a good time for us to share! At the end of the article we will give you some tips on what could help you with the interview, so hang on tight.

A Californian adventure

In December 2018, Shuo and I packed our bags from Beijing and Tel Aviv, and said goodbye to our friends and family and moved to San Francisco. We were ready to take on this exciting adventure, spend three months heads down, building and living together in the land of tech.

One of the most exciting things about the program was meeting other talented founders. They are all outstanding people tackling ideas from creating impossible foods for dairy (Eclipse Food) to building a new fintech solution for Tanzania (Nala). We bonded with many and made a great group of friends for life.

Shortly after, we realized that Y-Combinator was nothing like what we had experienced before. It helped us evolve as a team, as a business, and as individuals. In a way, it was like stepping into a time chamber where your constant mindsets are shipping and being pushed forward.

It makes or breaks your team

This time chamber definitely affects your team in numerous ways, and it had affected us in a very positive way. Our favorite period was when we flew in our distributed team located across five continents to our two bedroom apartment just a few weeks before Demo Day. Imagine six people living in a 759 square feet place for more than two weeks.

We would get up every morning, “commute” to the second floor where our office was for the time being and get to work. The pressure was high, but we went through all the highs and lows, days with no wins, and downtimes together … we even had some hard conversations. As a distributed team, the bond we formed by being together 24/7 is invaluable.

Trust me, we are no exception- every team will go through this process in their own way. It was totally worth it! We came out of this process knowing who we are as people, as professionals and most importantly, as a team with the 1 am ice-cream orders.

Work, test, iterate, repeat!

Y-Combinator’s motto is Make something people want. Having that in mind, we would ask this one question over and over again:

Do people want our product? Do people want our product? Do people want our product? Do people want our product?

It turns out this was crucial in the making of Deel. People didn’t really want our first product, and our initial hypothesis proved to be wrong. Two weeks before the end of YC, we pivoted (so far for the better 😜). More on that can be found in this article.

Y-Combinator makes you move, test, and track fast, and always be KPI oriented — the KPI is monthly recurring revenue for most companies. The best way to do that? Talk to your users. Understanding their needs helps you prioritize right, and validate whether they will pay for your product. It sounds easy, but trust me, talking to hundreds of people and genuinely listening to what they have to say is tough. Getting complacent and assuming you know best is a lot easier. 😅

Thankfully, our incredibly thoughtful partners were there to support us throughout the journey. They even made a Whatsapp group with us where we would ask questions every day and would get answers at the craziest hours! (Thank you Aaron, Hollie, Eric, and Qi).

Demo Day- the pinnacle of the whole experience

Those three months of work led to a single day- March 18th, also known as the Demo Day. It’s an event where 500+ investors would come and hear the pitches from us. We had 90 seconds to tell our story and intrigue some of the most famous Silicon Valley investors.

Looking back, Y-Combinator was the experience of a lifetime! Being part of this community is one of the best things that happened to us as founders and for Deel. The program itself is highly valuable, and instead of writing a few lines about it here in this article, we will publish another article when the next batch starts about our learnings and our perception of it.
We now feel ready and equipped to continue our journey of building a product that people truly want that will empower the future of work.

Bonus: How to prepare for your Y-Combinator interview

  • Be concise in answering questions. We know you are excited about your product, but try to limit it to 1–2 sentences per question. Practice using this.
  • Don’t try to fill the silence; just have clear-cut answers and stop when you are done. Let the partners ask follow-up questions.
  • Always go for honest and logical approaches. Overcomplicating things won’t get you anywhere.
  • Not getting an interview or not getting in after the interview is fine. It won’t be the reason your company doesn’t succeed or you are not making something people want.
  • Be relentless. Y-Combinator or any investor wants to feel like you are going to build this with or without them. Make them feel like they are missing out if they decide to reject you.

If you want to prepare better with mock interviews, reach out to me, I’ll make sure to give you my best Michael Seibel impression.

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