By Jason Shen & Derek Flanzraich
Welcome ReadWriteWeb readers! We hope you enjoy our super-long post – useful for all startup-oriented folks, but specifically geared towards non-engineers. Neither of us have strong coding experience and we found that there weren’t many good resources for us in our search to join the Next Big Thing. So we wrote the guide we wished we had.
Want to read other stuff by us? Check out The Idea or The Execution? Here’s What The Greatest Minds in Tech Say by Derek and Two Mindsets to Adopt at Work and in Life by Jason.
So you know you want to work at a startup, but have no idea where to start?
We’ve been there. Here’s our advice on how to land an incredible, fulfilling gig at exciting startup just like we did. It’s a mix of the stuff we did, the stuff we wish we had done, and the stuff we’ve learned from others who’ve traveled the same path. We hope you find it valuable and would love to hear your feedback on it!
1. IS THE STARTUP WORLD FOR YOU?
Compared to most post-college jobs, startups are an entirely different beast. Your typical recent grad faces a world of awful meetings, outdated training, absurd time-tracking, and mountains of paperwork. Startups cut almost all of that out. They need employees who are 30 times more productive because they’re trying to be that much more disruptive. They’re operating with fewer resources yet need to demonstrate much higher growth. They’re constantly iterating and changing based on immediate feedback from users. They’re fueled on Red Bull (Tony Hsieh-approved!) and coffee, Chinese take-out and In N’ Out burgers.
You’ll be doing “real work” 95+% of the time. Real work is cold-calling potential customers, troubleshooting support issues, writing copy that goes on the website. And to do it well, you’ve got to know your stuff, get up to speed quickly, be flexible, deliver under constant pressure, prioritize wisely, and often work super long hours.
Both us were happy to take on these challenges. We started stuff in college and loved the feeling of working with a tight-knit team to make big things happen. We didn’t want to be just employee #10,431, we wanted to be 11% of a tiny 9-person team. Instead, at a startup, you’re more likely to avoid corporate politics and sit on fewer soul-crushing meetings while rapidly growing your skill-set, learning from and hanging out with brilliant and passionate co-workers, and maybe even making an impact on entire industries? Does that get you fired up? If so, read on. If not, you’ve got other options…
2. FOCUS – ONLY TARGET A FEW STARTUPS
We think Jason Cohen puts it best: you’ve got to approach this like you’re getting married. What companies are most exciting to you? Which do you think could use your skills most? You’ve got a vision for where your industry is headed, so which companies share that vision (or inspired yours to begin with)? You’re going to have to go all-in on just a few startups because it’s your only shot at getting a job at one of them. What does going all-in mean? It means doing a ton of research (see #3), networking & building relationships (see #6), and proving you’re worth it (see #5) on just a few targets.
One of us (Jason) made a spreadsheet of all the companies he was interested in, ranked them, and stayed focused on only the ones that made his final cut. The shotgun approach rarely works here – because startups don’t have time to read your lame, vague-because-you’re-shotgunning-it cover letter.