Greetings, our readers.
If you think that working on a startup is very hard and you have to focus on the project, you are probably right. However, there might be a lot of different traps waiting for you around. Today I want to share with you a story happened to us recently. We’ve experienced a lot of stress in just two weeks, so let’s start.
Everything started when I came back to Abu Dhabi from Moscow. I’ve received a working visa, so my next goals were meeting with investors, finishing banking account and getting Emirates ID. To be honest, I was very surprised of how Abu Dhabi changed comparing to summer in terms of how fast people work. During a week I managed to meet with all investors, apply for my residency, pass medical and finish other small tasks, so I was just waiting to get my passport back. During that week I met one of our mentors Bern Shen, and he told me that now he will be very often in Silicon Valley, so if by any chance we will be there, we should meet with him. We’ve never been there, and we had a totally different plan, so at that moment it didn’t seem very possible. And here the story starts…
On Monday October 29th we’ve received a letter from YCombinator. They thought our startup to be promising, so they wanted us to come for a live interview. We were very happy about that, but the problem was that none of us had a US visa, and I didn’t even have my passport. We applied for visa, and the only one slot for me for interview was in Dubai on November the 5th. We wrote several emails to customer care with a request to accelerate the residency process, and it wasn’t very funny when they said something like: “We’ll try to do our best, but we can’t guarantee”. As an option we were thinking about stopping my residency process to get my passport back, but fortunately on November the 3rd everything was ready, and I got my passport. There were almost no problems at the Embassy, so I got my visa by approximately the 10th of November.
The next problem was with tickets. There were two of us flying to California. I was flying from Abu Dhabi, and my colleague was flying from Moscow. YCombinator was paying for all expenses, but of course they had limits, so the only option we had was to use connection flights. We found tickets where we had the same connection flights, so we were suppose to meet in London’s Airport and fly all the way to US together. We planned our trip from San Jose to Mountain View, and everything looked very good…
Our interview was scheduled on the 16th of November. On the 14th of November I came to the airport at about 11:40pm, and my flight was at 02:45am via British Airways. I went for the registration, and I didn’t expect any problems, but something happened. A woman at registration table told me that she had to call to UK to confirm. She talked to a guy from UK Airport and gave me the phone. It was very hard to understand what he was saying to me, because it was very loud, but I tried to do my best.
He started asking me questions about the purpose of my trip, and as appeared it was hard to explain it to them. Neither he nor the lady at the registration knew what incubator or business accelerator is. So I started telling the whole story, that we are a startup, which makes video games. We had been invited to interview in Mountain View and to have a chance to participate in the business acceleration program.
– Who are we?
– Me and my colleague.
– Where is he?
– She is flying from Moscow.
– Where will you meet?
– Somewhere in London’s Airport. We have the same connection flight.
– How many luggage do you have?
– I have just two bags. One for laptop and one backpack.
– How big is your backpack?
– Emmm. 5-10 killos maybe.
– What is the weather like in SF?
– Hmm. About +15, I guess. I have some clothes if that’s what you worry about.
– You know. I have some concerns. You are Russian, but you are flying from Abu Dhabi. You’ve also received a residency in UAE 10 days ago and a visa to US couple days ago. And now you are flying to US through UK. That’s very strange to me.
I didn’t get what strange about that, but l hope he got it.
– Don’t you have a direct flight to SF?
– Yes, there was one, but it was too expensive.
– Who is paying for your trip?
– YC is, but direct flight is way out of their limits.
– I see.
Then I gave the phone to the lady, and she spoke with him for a while. After that they told me that I can’t fly today. A million thoughts passed through me at that moment, like “If I won’t be there, will Rita be able to pass interview all by herself?”, “Maybe I can talk to them via Skype?”, “Will I make it if I fly later?”, but the best solution I found was to try to get a ticket not through Europe or at least not through UK.
The ticket was found. It was a direct flight, and the price was double from the ticket I’ve already bought. I didn’t want to miss my chance, and fortunately I had some cash with me, so I bought it. The flight was at the same time, at 02:45am, and it was already 01:00am, and registration had already been over. I rushed to another terminal, and fortunately they let me in. Before I went to the plane, I texted Rita “Don’t wait for me in London, I’m not coming. They didn’t let me on the airplane. I’m using a direct flight.” That text made her crazy and very worried 😀
In 16 hours I was in SF. I really enjoyed my flight via Etihad, and when Rita and some other people shared with me their experience with British Airways – I didn’t regret to overpay anymore. Anyway, in SF I didn’t know where to go, because we planed everything from San Jose. Fortunately, I can speak English well, so I found my way home, and later I went to San Jose and met Rita.
It was November the 16th. Our interview was scheduled at 2:45pm, so we came first at 12pm to check everything, and later at 2pm for the interview itself.
Everything was very strict. Each team has only 10 minutes, and no minute more. When 9 minutes are done, you will hear the door knocking. When 10 minutes are done, the door will be opened, so you have to leave. Our time has come, and we went inside. Usually it’s 3 people who interview each team. They all were very friendly and nice, but despite that I didn’t feel very comfortable, because of new place and new people, and because many people told me before how huge YC is, so I shouldn’t blow it. The interview was very intense. They were asking different questions very fast. I knew everything, but the problem was, that in most cases I had a long answer, and sometimes they shot with a different question right in the middle of my answer. When the time came to show our game, Rita and I didn’t agree beforehand who will show it, so we both took our devices and started showing the game to them. That made them frustrated, I guess.
When we came out, I was disappointed. I felt like I didn’t say so much, and I really wanted a second chance. In 5 minutes a guy came to us, and told us that we will have a second interview in 2-3 hours. I was very happy to hear it, and we decided not to leave YC to adjust better to this place.
At 5-30pm we were called to the second interview with Justin and Michael, the founders of Justin.tv. That interview was much more friendly, and the questions were more specific about gaming. We showed our game on iPad, and Justin even played it a little. You know, it’s very hard to prove people that you know what you are doing, and that this is going to be the next hit, when we are not from any of the famous gaming companies, and we don’t have any hits we had made before. From another side, every world known company started with their first hit released in the past. Fortunately, beside the argument that the whole team believes in our project, we have famous mentors, some prove from the market, like Greenlight on Steam. We were also going outside and showing the game to people we don’t know to get feedback and check the market. And we have you, who is reading this article and support us. 🙂
After the interview I was more than satisfied. When we came home, we were planning to have lunch. Since we didn’t have a US phone number, we have attached one to Rita’s Skype. Both computers, mine and hers, were working. There were only two options. Either we will get a call on Rita’s laptop, or e-mail on mine. The YC has a very interesting rule. If you get a call – it means YES, but if you get an email – it means NO, and some explanations why. So in fact, you know beforehand what to expect.
At about 7-8pm we were having lunch and waiting for the results.
I’m afraid the article is already too long, so I need to wrap it up. I’ll continue writing this article, and share it with you when it’s ready, so stay tuned.
Believe me, our adventures with British Airways were just starting. We just didn’t know that by that time.