Things I’ve Learned in Three Weeks at a Startup

I’ve been working at isocket, a small VC-backed tech startup since mid July. We make a tool that helps web publishers sell display ads on their site (and we’re growing). It’s been pretty awesome so far.

I’ve always heard that you learn a ton of stuff when you work in a startup and now I fully understand why: you’re operating on an accelerated time frame, wearing multiple hats, and immediately doing real work.

Since work stuff can go by in a blur, I wanted to note what I’ve seen just in the first couple weeks.Here’s just a snippet of the stuff I’ve done/learned in less than a month.

Email Marketing
I’ve been emailing a list of people who signed up to get updates from us when we were in private beta. It turns out that people actually click-through about 30% to non-personalized subject headers – maybe because it looks less spammy. Also, you can get about 40% more opens if you resend the blast the next day with a more personal email that asks if they saw the previous email. It’s a useful trick.

Board Meetings
I got to sit in one of the board meetings with our founder/CEO John Ramey. I’ve sat in board meetings at nonprofits as both the executive director and a board member but this is different. I was never handed millions of dollars and asked to make it grow 100x. John handles it pretty damn well for a 24 year old. He gives the VCs the right amount of information and never gets defensive, even when our board members ask him some pretty tough questions. It’s a skill I’m trying to learn.

board meeting
Don’t get intimidated by the long table.

Usability Tests
I’ve gotten a chance to sit in number of usability tests – which help us learn how our customers use our product. Al, one of our designers, taught me the kinds of questions you should be asking and how NOT to lead the user on when walking them through the interface. Usability tests were generally video recorded with text notes attached. It showed me how serious design can be and hard it is to create a super elegant product.

Sales Calls
We very much do what you’d call consultative sales. That means we really are working with the customer to understand whether isocket is right for them. Because ultimately, we need them to make more money from our product or they’ll stop using it. Asking the right question to qualify the customer, controling the frame even when they push on why you don’t have ‘X” feature and relentlessly following up, are some of the keys to success here. I still have a long way to go on phone, screen share and in person pitches, so I’ll be busting my butt here to make sure I’m delivering.

Screen Casts
Helping customers understand how the product works and what they need to do to get set up is critical. Making a good screen cast isnt’ easy though, there’s lots of scripting, talking, cutting, and post-production processing that goes into an interesting, educational that moves along fast enough for people to not get bored.

Solving Customer Issues
In my very first week, both my boss and my main coworker was gone and I had to cover support. Talk about being handed responsibility. Without our customers, we’re nothing and we owe it to ourselves to solve the problems as soon as possible.
So I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot more in the months to come, and if we can keep up this rate, I’ll be pretty pleased. Oh yeah, and the one other thing I learned? Sometimes it’s ok to have a beer at lunch…

Lunch at desk
Fine dining at the desk.
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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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