Get an awesome job without an impressive resume, by adding value first
Last week I read an article about how a recent college grad, Austin Geidt, became the 4th employee at Uber. One of my main takeaways was the concept of adding value before you seek anything in return. This is not a new concept and for the most part it is common sense, however I feel most people do not apply it to their job hunt. Adding value first is exactly what Austin did to land a job at Uber. She bugged the founders until they brought her on as an intern, helping out however she could. She came in with the mindset of having to prove her value to the company on a daily basis. Now of course she has worked her way up to a top level position at Uber.
In one of my favorite episodes of This Week in Startups, Chris Sacca talks about adding value to the companies he invests in. Jason asks Sacca how he has got into such awesome deals over years (Twitter, Uber, Instagram, Kickstarter). Sacca says his secret is that he always tries to add value upfront before he writes a check and asks for equity.
About 2 months ago my co-founder and I decided to pull the plug on our dying startup. Since then I have been working on my next move. One of my daily routines is researching companies I am interested in and sending out resumes. This effort has been unsuccessful for the most part, most likely because my resume is not all that impressive and I am not a developer. After, several weeks of this practice I have decided my time can be better spent taking a different approach. That approach of course is figuring out ways to add value first to these companies I want to join.
I can’t understand why I was even attempting the “cold” emailed resume approach. I mean after all, the way I landed my first job out of college was not by emailing my resume. I interned (unpaid) for the summer in the finance department for a small city in southern California. At the time I did not realize I was adding value first, I just did it to say I had done a summer internship. Luckily for me, by adding value first I had set myself up on the inside track to a paid position with the city. Sure enough in January of the following year the finance director called me and told me they had a part-time position available and it was mine if I wanted it. I took the position and after six months of part-time work they brought me on full-time. I did not have to go through an interview process where I would have competed against more qualified candidates, instead I had added value first so I was already ahead of the pack.
I believe interning (unpaid) for a company is a great way to add value first. Of course not everyone has the luxury of doing so. I am lucky enough to have some savings to support me for a few months while I give it a shot. My plan is to find a part time job that can supplement my expenses while I work unpaid for a company I feel passionate about joining. My goal is to move into a paid role with that company within 3-4 months and it’s a goal that will need to be reached if I want to continue paying rent.
When looking to land a job at a killer company there are certainly other ways to add value first. My co-founder from my last company and I re-designed a page from a startup’s website. We will be sending this re-design to the company in the next couple days. We did this because we are hoping to show the startup we can add value to what they are doing and hopefully this will land us a meeting. This may not work out, but either way it was good design and front end coding practice for us.
Adding value first will hopefully give me the edge I need to land a job with a company I am passionate about, however in general I believe it is a great mantra to live by when approaching any relationship.
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Phone Sex Just Isn’t The Real Thing
There are a million awesome communication tools out there to connect people remotely. Even tools out there to simulate sex with people remotely. However, working for a startup in its early stages with co-founders in different cities is difficult and should definitely be avoided.
For us working with our founding team in 3-4 different places made it difficult to keep everyone engaged. Working remotely can feel lonely especially when you are not seeing much results for your work. Though there is so many awesome tools to communicate while working remotely, nothing compares to sitting at the same table. When communicating digitally, no matter how real time the software is, there is always a time delay compared to face to face interaction. Conceivably you could be in a Google+ Hangout for the entire workday, but even then moving from different locations and going out to lunch would seem to still fall short of working in the same office. While at the same table decisions can be made faster, everyone can stay on the same page without any delay, and people are more accountable for their work when they have to look you in the eyes in person. Additionally, I think it is in human nature to feel more connected when you are physically close to people, even though your phone offers almost the same level of connectivity. This sense of comfortable connectedness is essential to the success of a startup team and seems to be difficult to replicate even with the most advanced software.
We certainly could have used these technologies more effectively to stay connected. However, at the end of the day, bringing your founding team together in one city will eliminate an unnecessary source of friction. And with so many forces already working against an early stage startup, you need to do everything in your control to put your team in the best position to succeed.
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Domain Experts Are Not Your Customers
Talking to customers is challenging. You have to leave the comfort of your computer screen and get outside. You have to find people who are willing to chat and ask the right questions which will hopefully provide you the most insight into your potential customer. It can be enticing to to simply find someone who is a domain expert and let them be the focus of your customer validation process. Though domain experts can provide a ton of useful insight into an industry you may not be familiar with, do not confuse insight from a domain expert with customer validation.
I am writing this post because this was one of the many lessons I learned from my experience as the co-founder of a failed startup.
Our startup failed for number of reasons, but I feel the biggest reason was simply we built a product nobody wanted/needed. We did not seek much customer validation, and jumped into building the product right away. Towards the end of development we started to search for customers, and there were none to be found.
Why did we not seek customer validation before we started building?
1. We were just inexperienced and didn’t understand the basics of bringing a product into the world
2. We thought we had done customer validation
The first reason is self explanatory, but the second reason is what I want to talk about. How did we think we had done customer validation without actually doing it? We confused insight from a domain expert with customer validation. We were building a product for musicians and we brought on an advisor who was a veteran in the music industry. He had been working with artists, venues and labels for years and had infinitely more knowledge of the music industry than we did. So when he was excited about what we were building, we interpreted that as validation for our product/idea. With his blessing we started building the product. Throughout the build we would consult with him about the product and make changes based on his feedback. This was much easier than actually interacting with customers.
Now it wasn’t that our advisor was giving us bad insight or leading us astray. Not at all. He provided us with a great deal of insight and connections into the music industry. I would not change a thing in regards to bringing him aboard as an advisor. The mistake was on our end. We did not use his insight correctly. His insight was basically well informed assumptions (ours were uninformed assumptions) about our customers. They fall into the assumptions category because he was not our customer. Here is where we made the mistake, we took his well informed assumptions as customer validation. We should have taken these assumptions and tested them with customers. Had we sought out true customer validation, and tested these assumptions with customers we could have avoided almost a year of development on a product nobody wanted.
Consulting with domain experts is very useful, but do not confuse this insight as a shortcut to customer validation. Unless you’re into building products nobody wants, I suggest you get out of the building and seek customer validation by…well…talking to customers.
Follow up to a previous post by my co-founder: My Startup Failed. Fuck!
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Be more productive at your next Startup Weekend
I attended a Startup Weekend event in Sacramento this past weekend. It was an awesome event. I met some cool people, furthered my knowledge of the lean startup methodology and overall had a great time. However, our team definitely lacked some efficiency when working on our project.
Here are couple tips on increasing your team’s productivity:
-Strictly moderate group discussions – First off avoid group discussions when possible. This past weekend it seemed like every time we engaged in a group discussion with our 7 person team it was very unproductive. Delegating decision making responsibilities to smaller groups that then report back to the whole group seems to be the most efficient decision making flow. When a group discussion is necessary make sure someone moderates the discussion, ensuring that everyone who is contributing is sticking to the topic at hand. As the moderator don’t be afraid to interrupt someone when necessary, after a few interruptions people will think more before they speak and make sure their contribution is on topic.
-Build a road map for the weekend – Set a road map for the weekend which includes tasks and goals in which all members of the team are in charge of or can contribute too. As a team it seemed like we where wasting time doing things that did not contribute to our overall goals for our project. People are usually eager to work hard all weekend, but without some guidance or structure people tend to get off track. If we were clear at the beginning of the week which goals or tasks needed to be accomplished and someone began working on something that did not directly contribute to those goals it would be easy to get them back in line. Constantly getting people back on track is a waste of time, define the goals up front so people can self correct rather than be told.