Land a Job at a Hot Tech Startup
Debunking the well perpetrated myth of the elusive "startup," we show how you can score that dream job at a buzzing new tech venture.
There is no denying the fact that up and coming tech companies, a.k.a. startups are all the rage. The massive payout that comes with a well timed exit coupled with the unconstrained atmosphere where anything is possible have served well to reinforce the myth of the next gold rush. The web is crawling with stories of the next 20-something college grad launching a hot new product that takes the world by storm.
As captivating as that notion is, the reality is that most viable startups function much like a large established organization, except that all processes are scaled down. There isn't nearly as much Red Bull fueled all-night coding frenzies as the media would have you believe. The truth is that the vast majority of the proverbial tech founders are well above 20 years of age. A well documented fact often skewed by outsiders is that the average age of founders in new technology ventures is 40 years old. Aside from that, companies initiated by older entrepreneurs statistically end up having a higher success rate, measured by the number of so called exits - acquisitions, mergers and IPOs.
If your goal for the new year is to secure a well paying job, give meaning to your work, take on healthy challenge and responsibility, rapidly prototype solutions that have a real time impact, and reap potential rewards once the company matures, you should think about joining a tech startup. Just make sure you stick around long enough to vest.
Here are some tips to land your dream job at a hot technology startup:
Getting Into the Mindset
If you are reading this on ITCareerFinder, you likely belong to a group that already has a leg up on all the other hopefuls - you know how to code. The top venture capitalists in the game often quip that a successful team needs 2 core elements - a hacker and a hustler, while a 3rd - a hipster (a.k.a. designer) is an added bonus. Needless to say, there are a lot more hustlers roaming the Meetup events than hackers. There is a pervasive demand for good engineering talent that is often unmet. And that is where you come in. This is a game where you can see yourself play a hand in the next technological revolution, and make a killing in the process.
Spot the Diamond in the Rough
Start by looking at emerging trends that have high growth potential in the foreseeable future. Gartner has released their yearly report outlining the major IT innovations that will drive growth in 2014. Increased connectivity, coupled with the combined raw horsepower of millions of smartphones and tablets means the vast majority of innovation will center around mobile computing. This ranges from solutions that help wrangle the BYOD programs now widely instituted across enterprises, to hybrid clouds that merge the personal cloud with external services, to the next Snapchat that will hijack the headlines this time next year. The "Internet of Things" along with "Sensors Everywhere" are also predicated to disrupt IT unlike ever before.
Hit the Pavement
The truth is, startups are everywhere. The era of Silicon Valley dominance over new technology ventures has given way to local hubs innovating wherever opportunity presents itself, across the globe. It definitely helps if you live in a large metropolitan area that has well developed IT communities built around innovation.
My advice is to look for a job in your vicinity, one that you will be able to commute to. Another advantage of going local is that you can tap your existing network to find opportunities. Startups building the next big thing do not advertise, they simply don’t need to, nor do they wish to waste their time. The quality of startups you are likely to find at a Meetup event is a few degrees lower than those stealthy operations with an ace up their sleeves, and the only foot in the door there is to know someone with a way in. That said, it is more likely to get an introduction once you are visible and actively looking, and the larger your network, the better your chances are of being the next prospect.
Well Heeled Ventures
So you have scoped the landscape and identified a few soon to be Instagrams. How do you know which will float and which will sink, as undoubtedly a lot of them do? Simple, you follow the money.
Knowing the quality of investors onboard a startup speaks volumes about its future. You are not likely to ask for the startup's financial statements, or R&D costs, during the interview, but you can be sure that the VCs who put millions of dollars into the venture have done so.
Although not everyone can land Andreessen Horowitz or Union Square Ventures on their first few rounds, looking at the financial stability of a startup, as well as the members on the board, can provide valuable information you need to make the decision whether to join A or B.
Find a Warm Welcome
Once you have figured out the market and set your sights, now you need to get an introduction. These are not the jobs you will find on well treaded sites Craigslist or LinkedIn. The only real opportunity to get an interview is to go out, meet with real people and learn what they know. Chris Sacca, one of the top angel/VCs in the game was down in the hole when he lost all his law school tuition money playing the stock market right when the tech bubble burst. After which, he moved out to Silicon Valley and started attending every networking event available and even offering to help for free to whoever would have him. Chris' hustle and tenacity over many months paid off when he finally got an opportunity to join Google, and accrue pre-IPO stock. The rest is history.
No one said this was easy, and there is no formula for accomplishing this task. However, once you are out there, you will find that there is always going to be someone who is willing to help. Many successful people pay it forward, since most of them were in your shoes just a decade earlier.
Go the Extra Mile
If you think a polished resume and sharp suit will help you land your dream startup job, think again. For all the comparisons they have to big organizations, one differs significantly - every member of their often small and agile team is absolutely indispensable. Startups don't usually have enough runway to hire unconditionally, nor are they likely to part with equity just because they like you. If you want to get on the team, you have to prove your worth, and you better get creative.
Stories are plenty about candidates helping a company secure clients before they were ever hired. Or more risky gambits like hacking the website just to prove you got the coding chops to make an impact. Whatever the tactic, you want to differentiate yourself and get attention from the founders or hiring managers. After that, it is only a matter of time before you get your knock on the door.