Category Archives: Team

how to get your first startup job

Why the Startup You Want to Work at Skipped Your Resume (and Hired Someone Else)

I’ve interviewed well over 100+ (maybe 200+) job candidates over the past several years, for marketing, sales, engineering, and design roles at my startup, and wanted to share some general principles and advice for younger professionals and first-time job seekers with limited experience looking to “break into tech” and land their dream gig.

I definitely see a broad range in overall candidate “preparedness” for today’s startup workforce; some students and early-career professionals have done a lot of relevant coursework, independent learning and career-path thinking (always a positive), while others may show high levels of intellectual firepower, motivation and potential but often don’t have a great deal of career maturity, perspective or work experience.

As a result I thought I’d put together a list of observations and recommendations that might help anyone interested in a job at a tech startup bolster their resume and be better prepared to land (and ace) that first interview. Although I’ve interviewed developers in the past, in my current role I’m mostly interviewing non-technical (or “soft technical”) business roles. Because I think the developer interview track is somewhat different (and also needs to move a lot faster given the industry-wide talent shortage for great engineers; for example, I’ve heard Facebook’s hiring strategy includes same-day offers if they really like a candidate, which in the conventional HR world is almost unheard of), I’m going to focus this essay on suggestions for early-career, non-technical job applicants looking to work at a startup.

If you’re applying for a job or internship at a tech startup in 2017 or heading into 2018, here are the biggest gaps, traps and potential pitfalls that can really hurt your application and prevent you from getting hired. Continue reading

Managing A Startup’s Most Valuable Resource: Time

Covey's Four Quadrant Time Management Matrix

[The following is an excerpt from my essay “Time Management for Startups: Quantify, Prioritize, and Automate” that originally appeared on Sixteen Ventures. To read the article in its entirety, including Lincoln Murphy’s forward, conclusion and other productivity recommendations, please go here.]

Whenever I write a guest post or article, I start by brainstorming how I can organize a collection of past experiences into a targeted story or message around a topic. I started doing that for this essay too, when a simple thought occurred to me: I have a lot of different experiences to choose from. In fact, I’ve been working at or on early-stage SaaS companies for over five years now.

Wow. It certainly hasn’t felt like five years. Between trips to CES and SXSW (and close to a dozen different countries), hiring — and, sadly, firing — great people, building two successful businesses and struggling through two disappointing failures, five years got archived in a flash, almost 2,000 days.

Could I have made better use of that time professionally? Could I have achieved more goals over that span? On reflection, I think the answer is “yes” – particularly early on. Because entrepreneurship is so centered around urgency, most of us not only find it challenging to maintain healthy work-life balances to begin with, but we often over-focus on the next customer meeting or feature release or conference, and the one right after that, failing to optimize around our most precious resource: time.

Why Time is So Precious for Startups

Startup time is different than normal time. Startups succeed by doing more with less, and they rely on the core advantages of speed, focus and vision to grow and distrupt rapidly despite smaller budgets, fewer people, scarcer resources and less established brands. Somewhere between 75-90% of startups fail and the average Y Combinator startup goes 23 months between its founding and either exit or failure. If you consider Y Combinator class-members to generally be the cream of the crop, that means the average tech startup has an even shorter lifetime. But although startups fold as a result of things like founder incompatibility and lack of product-market fit, ultimately, every startup’s most previous resource — and biggest risk – is time.

Running out of money, not getting product traction, getting beat out by a competitor – all symptoms of not moving fast enough and losing out to time.

Paradoxically, despite the fact that time is the lifeblood of innovation, most entrepreneurs don’t really focus on time management systematically or strategically. Prioritization is done out of necessity, so execution can keep base with business realities (i.e., getting sh*t done).

But science and success suggests there are some better ways, and if you’re willing to commit to five more minutes of reading you can take advantage of them too.

Three Principles for Optimizing Startup Time

Although there’s no one size fits all time management cure-all, here are three practical, data-backed productivity principles I strongly encourage you to test professionally, particularly if you work at a startup:

1. Passively quantify how you spend your time
2. Prioritize for growth impact by focusing on growth importance, not growth urgency
3. Automate as much as [non-]humanly possible

Let’s walk through each one. Continue reading

Growth Engineering

Why It’s Impossible to Hire Good Growth Engineers

June 2016 update: I’m back hiring growth engineers at Percolate. Click here and follow the instructions to learn more or apply.

I’ve spent a nontrivial part of my last two months at Percolate focused on hiring growth engineers — software developers who are passionate about agile, creative app development, customer acquisition and scalable experimentation. This clearly represents a valuable skill-set, as talented individuals in this role can have a major impact on the overall trajectory of an early stage company.

The Current Hiring Trend Clearly Favors Growth & Marketing Engineers

The challenge for recruiters, however, is that it’s basically impossible to find good growth developers. Why? After going through hundreds of resumes and dozens of screening interviews, I see four major thematic challenges:

1. Mentality and experience don’t align. Being an effective growth developer requires being able to balance periods of creative ideation with rapid prototyping sprints. There’s also, in my opinion, more “competitive” impetus in growth development vs. more traditional software development. With customer acquisition the most important priorities are being fast (ideally first), original and unconventional, rather than writing clean, reusable code that’s been thoroughly unit-tested. My observation is younger software developers tend to embrace these work parameters more enthusiastically than more experienced engineers (for a variety of obvious vocational and lifestyle reasons). Unfortunately, a lot of the job market candidates who have the best mentality for growth development are recent graduates from development bootcamp programs like General Assembly, Hacker School and App Academy. As a result, these types of devs usually only have three to four months of experience, primarily focused on a single framework like Ruby on Rails, and need additional mentorship and skill-development to reach the point where they can be effective in a growth-oriented, more independent role on a smaller dev team.

2. Most developers want more structure. Engineers, are, after all, engineers. And while engineering fundamentally entails technical problem-solving, it’s also closely linked with defined — sometimes even strict — parameters, documentation and requirements. By comparison, there’s a lot of blank slate fits and starts in growth and marketing. Most web and mobile engineers don’t like unstructured, vague or open-ended assignments, and would prefer a more steady, structured work environment.

3. Most engineers like big(ger) teams. Although the solitary hacker-with-headphones archetype still hasn’t been entirely dispelled from startup folklore, the reality is most engineers are social, like collaborating, and want to work on big teams. There are practical considerations for this — big teams can manage bigger projects and accomplish more work — as well as social advantages: development efforts become more modular, engineers with different expertise compliment each others’ work, and larger engineering teams can solve problems collaboratively. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most growth engineering teams run extremely lean and are much more individual contribution-oriented.

4. The best growth engineers tend to be fiercely independent. In rare instances where I come across great growth engineers, they almost invariably dislike being directed or managed. Again, this is largely a practical matter — if you’re talented enough to devise your own technology products, build them, then acquire users, traction and revenue, you’re about as self-sufficient as someone in the modern workforce can be. In addition, you also bring a very holistic and thorough vision to product development overall. Finding a marketing-oriented engineer like Dharmesh Shah, or, among the younger generation, a Robert Matei, Myles Recny, Nathan Bashaw, or Carl Sednaoui (and most recently Taowei Huang) is a needle-in-a-hackstack quest to begin with… then you have the heroic task of convincing them whatever you’re doing is worth their time.

Ultimately, great growth engineers possess a rare combination of technical proficiency, creativity and competitive drive, alongside a willingness to be an experimental self-starter. Very few marketers (even those who refer to themselves as “growth hackers”) and software developers can put all the pieces together, making growth engineers one of the single hardest roles to recruit for. In some ways, maybe this is a good thing, as individuals who fit this talent profile can generate a true competitive advantage when they’re focused and given the resources (coffee, budget, distribution exposure) they need to be successful.

By the way, if you live (or want to live) in NYC, want to prove me wrong and think you can make an awesome, fast-growing technology company grow even faster, email me today or apply here so we can hire you.

[highlight image credit courtesy of The Drum]