Y Combinator: The Start

Arnau Navarro, CEO of haddock, explains how the YC adventure began!

Arnau Navarro

February 16, 2022

I don't remember the first time I heard about Y Combinator. What I do remember perfectly well was the moment I thought, let's apply.ย 


It was an afternoon in May(26/05/21) and I was at Lanzadera, an accelerator created by Juan Roig, president of Mercadona, which we had joined only two months earlier. That day they made a presentation about Y Combinator.

Tamanna Khema, explained the benefits of the American accelerator. Learning for 3 intensive months from great entrepreneurs who are references for us, such as Brian Chesky from Airbnb, Michael Seibel from Twitch or Henrique Debugras from Brex (my partner Pol's favourite), among many others. They explained that they invested $125k in exchange for 7% of the company, but it opened the door to becoming a unicorn like Rappi, Dropbox or Coinbase.

I won't lie to you, I got dizzy. To compare ourselves to these companies was pretentious. However, we had always been ambitious. Dreamers but doers. Visionaries but executors. Strategic, but we were down in the mud every day for half 12-hour days.ย 

At that time we had been in the market for just over 3 months with only 30 paying customers. "What if we apply for the next edition," I thought. And Combinator has two annual editions, Winter and Summer, and the due date for the Winter edition was 8 September, so I set myself a task in Asana for 25 August "Prepare YC Application". I was sure that by that time we would have more customers and the product would be much more complete: "we won't be embarrassed to be so small".

1 September

I see the task of preparing the application in Asana expired and my first thought was "Now I'm going to invest hours in an application that we know we won't get? However, my ambitious and dreamy side won over the pessimistic one and I got down to work.

8 September

A week later I informed my partners that we were applying. The conversation went something like this:ย 

Arnau: Pol, Carlos, we are applying to YCombinator, I need a 1 minute video of the 3 of you.

Pol: How?

Carlos: OK, but... what do we have to do?

A: Nothing, I'll be a minute. But I just realised that tonight is the last day to apply.ย 

08/09/21 Crec Coworking


21 October

I get the email from the first filter. They want an interview: "Your application looks promising" . Promising. Nerves. In 5 days we have the video call.ย 

25 October

What happened the day before the interview was a bit far-fetched. I called Benoit, co-founder of Payflow (YC S21) to give me 4 tips. Benoit has always been a great support for us, he gave us feedback on applying to YC and on different challenges we've had over the months. I thought it would be a typical 5' phone call with a friend to find out how he remembered that moment. But it wasn't.

I remember that we started the video call and Benoit appeared, serious, in a dimly lit room and, without greeting me, he launched me:ย 

Benoit: What are you building?

Arnau: What? Benoit, what are you saying?

B: Arnau, what are you building?

A: Man, I don't understand you.ย 

B: Arnau, weren't we going to do a mock interview?

A: A what?

B: What, you haven't prepared for the interview at all?ย 

A: Mmm... no, what do I have to prepare? It's just talking about haddock, isn't it?

B: NO! The YC interview is a ritual. A lot has been written about it and there is a whole process to get through the filter. When do you say you have the interview?ย 

A: Morning.ย 

B: Bf, we prepare it for 4-5 days 3-4 hours a day.

"We are lost," I thought.

He told me to watch videos and blogs on "How to Prepare for the Y Combinator Interview" and to practice a lot with Pol and Carlos.

I hung up and told them that we had better get a move on or they would not accept us.

26 October

Interview. That day I was in Lanzadera, Valencia. I had got up at 5 in the morning to drive 3 hours to attend the sessions of that week. At 20:45h we had the interview. For 8 hours, almost non-stop, we prepared (remotely) the interview. Reading blogs like: "Tips for YC Interviews" or watching Youtube videos of "Y Combinator interview training".

It was like when you study on the day of an exam and you know it's useless. That the die is already cast.


Nerves on edge.ย 


We went into the meeting. They ask us short but direct questions, you could tell they had read our application very well. Carlos answers the product and technology questions, Pol answers the sales and growth questions and I answer the rest.ย 

They thank us and hang up on us.


Arnau: What just happened, how did you guys see it?

Carlos: I don't know, I think we did very well. If they don't accept us it might be because of other things, but the answers have been great.

Arnau: If they call us it means they accept us, if they send us an email it means we're out...


Mail from YCombinator. F***. That means we're out.
It says they need more information. "Can you send over some screenshots of your bank statements that will show your current revenue growth rate?".ย 

"What? Does that mean they're interested?"

In the streets of Valencia, outside the shuttle, answering the mail. Nerves in crescendo.



Mail sent. Will they call us? You can call us until 01:30 am (04:30 pm American time).ย 


They don't call us.ย 


Refresh mail every 5 seconds. No mail.


I fall asleep


I wake up suddenly. I look at the email, no reply. No calls. Bff... More than 10 hours to go before they wake up in the USA. I anticipate it's going to be a long day.ย 


We start the day with the Daily Meeting as every day. At 15h we return to Barcelona. I spend (we spend with Pol and Carlos) all day searching the internet: "Why don't they answer the same day?", "How to know if you have been accepted or not?" "Real cases of entrepreneurs who have been accepted to YC". Yes, a bit obsessive, but you understand us, don't you?


I call my grandfather. "Hello Yayo, I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday, I was waiting for a call that didn't come. I'm on my way back from Valencia..."


Incoming call from an American number. I repeat: Incoming call from an American number. At that moment I am still talking to my grandfather. "Yayo, I'll call you back.

"Hello, I'm Dalton from YC. Thanks for talking to us yesterday and yep we like to fund your startup for the winter 2022 batch."ย 

The adventure begins.ย 

To be continued...

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