67) Y-Combinator’s application process

wēi  danger

Recruiting is tough. As Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks said: “Hiring people is an art, not a science, and resumes can’t tell you whether someone will fit into a company’s culture.”

The same is also true when selecting investments – Paul Graham, the Founder of Y-Combinator,  believes that finding the right people to invest in is more important than finding the right ideas, after all the idea often changes through the life of a startup whereas the founders are fixed.  When Y-Combinator launched in 2005 it invested in 8 startups, in the current cycle there are 40. Surely the seed stage investment firm has scaled so quickly it has compromised its ability to select the right people?

jī opportunity

To the contrary I think that Y-Combinator has kept the people selection bar incredibly high, partly because the team is getting smarter but also because of its creative application process.  Applicants are asked to submit their resume and to answer some specific questions, including: Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage. But the most interesting aspect of the process to me is that applicants are required to submit a 1 minute video, the application form states:

“In the video please introduce yourselves, explain what you’re doing and why, and tell us anything else you want to about the founders or the project.  The video should contain nothing except the founders talking. No screenshots or postproduction wizardry.  Just talk spontaneously as you would to a friend.”

I love the idea of making video applications mandatory.  It sets a hurdle to ensure the applicant’s commitment and enables the hirer to take a view on many skills that resumes only hint at: communication, sense of humour and interest.  It provides the best shot at assessing the thing Schultz recognised was so important, cultural fit. Although it’s useful to assess academic background with resumes it seems crazy to leap from that to in person interviews – video applications seem to be the smart middle step.

How About…

  • Why not require all applicants to submit a short video with their application?
  • And can you ask the candidate to answer questions that may give you a better idea of cultural fit?

Oh, and if you’re a candidate and need to create a video application – here’s how not to do it (remember – this guy might have actually looked good on paper):