Our YC 2020 interview and how we got our product into the Eiffel tower.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Monday 4th of November, London, it’s early in the morning and we are waking up to go to the other side of London to see how our customers are using our product. Later in the day we will be headed to London Heathrow airport to jump on a plane for our Paris Y Combinator interviews.
For those who don’t know we do Internal Parcel Tracking software, and the best way we have found to build new features and to improve parcel tracker is to work closely with our users. Our software is used by receptionists, mailroom staff and logistics bay teams. So, we spent the morning at the client’s building scanning and managing their mailroom better understand their needs. We always find some UX improvements we can implement, or some edge-case bugs that need fixing. In the afternoon we did some further customer development by heading to a Skyscraper in London to meet with the logistics bay manager and get specification on how Parcel Tracker should work at such large buildings (they have over 4000 people there). 5 pages of notes and a dozen photos later we were more knowledgeable on the next steps of our product. Time to head out to YC.
We all headed home to prepare for our trip and met up at Heathrow in the evening. The flight to Paris wasn’t particularly eventful, 40 min minutes later we landed and an hour after that we were in our hotel ready to get some sleep. It was a nice and minimalistic hotel 20 min away from the office where the interviews were conducted. We were feeling optimistic, we had all our numbers down, business was good for the last month. Around 30,000 parcels had been scanned through our system in the last month alone, not too bad if you ask me.
Tuesday the 5 of November, its YC interview day! We wake up, and go to a boulangerie, when in Paris…. We then take around 2 hours to go through the YC questions using a YC timer website, nifty tool built by James Cunningham and Colin Hayhurst (GoScale, S12) that we found on Chas Ballew’s (Aptible) Article. Lunch time comes around and we are still feeling optimistic, little did we know that wouldn’t last long.
14:00, We are at the office where the interviews will happen, Luca and I are pacing around feeling the pressure mounting. Alan is channeling the inner Shaolin Monk and sitting still looking into the distance as he so often does.
We then get called up to the interview, we walk down the corridor and up the stairs. We are given a timer with 9 minutes on it and asked to head to the interview room. We shake hands with the YC partners and before my butt touches the seat, we get our first question: “So what are you building”.
Stumbling to get my answer out in a logical manner, I finally manage to explain what we are building. The questions continue flying, we answered them. Whether our answers were good and confidence inspiring is debatable.
One question caught me off guard, an assumption we had made about the next iteration of our product. It was a valid question and we have since spent a significant amount of time trying to validate or break the assumption we had made! But coming out of that office, we didn’t feel confident, we felt like we had bombed it… Well we decided to talk a walk through the city to clear our minds.
As we continued our walk-through Paris we went through the louvre and ended up at The Eiffel tower. We had a little cardio session running up the stairs, some affect a little more by it than others.
Once at the top, we took 2 minutes to take in the amazing view. However, we had one thing on our mind, “Let’s scan a parcel”. We did, indeed have some empty Parcel’s in our bags. And that’s how we scanned the first ever parcel at the Eiffel tower among 100s of tourists looking at us like we were crazy. While it is true, we didn’t get the Eiffel tower using the product, we technically got Parcel Tracker into the Eiffel tower.
Our train out of Paris was leaving in 3 Hour and we had a 30-minute commute and had to eat dinner. So, another cardio session later we made it down the Eiffel tower and to the Gare du Nord. A steak, some burgers and beers later we were ready to go back home.
Our minds still buzzing with Parcel Tracker we took the time to redesign the UX and UI of the application based on the feedback we had received the day before from our customers. These were implemented in a week. Strangely enough, in our hearts we believed that we would not get into YC, yet we felt more invigorated than ever before. After all we had come a long way from 3 years ago, when we had 0 clients 0 revenue. We now had clients, we were making revenue and things were moving forward.
We had applied last minute to Y combinator based of a friend’s suggestion. The Y Combinator application wasn’t too long so we went for it. We weren’t particularly keen on going, however when we received our invite to the Paris interviews, our mind set changed completely. We wanted to get in and focused a lot of time on doing so. For the W2020 interviews we didn’t received feedback on whether we got into YC on the day, instead we had to wait for a while, and this wait was stressful! This was due to the change in the interview’s location, instead of running all the interviews in Mountain View, they held interviews in Paris, India, and China (but that’s a different program).
Did we get into YC? No, we got an email 2 weeks after our interview highlighting the reasons we were not selected for the Winter 2020 batch. 2 issues seemed to prevail, 1: Our Vision was not clear, 2: We had not built defensibility into Parcel Tracker, and they believed it could be easy to replicated.
Both of which are valid; we were not able to articulate our vision effectively, and currently Parcel Tracker doesn’t have the deepest “defensible moat around it”. We’ll give both a fix and try again.
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