"Hey, what are you trying to do? Be the next Zuck?"
The truth for everyone with the entrepreneurial spirit is - at least a very tiny bit - yes, all of us are. He represents the pinnacle of the entrepreneur's dream: improving the lives of billions and creating incredible value in the process. It's a contagiously attractive proposal, but not everyone wants to drop out of school and start a company on a whim. Instead, similar excitement and innovation are happening in startup offices around the world - and many are hiring. In offices with a startup mentality, you'll find passion, hardworking drive, unlimited growth possibilities, and the occasional ping pong table.
Before diving into founding your first company, get ahead by seeing how a successful startup runs from within. In this piece, we'll dive into how you can gain valuable startup experience by getting a position at a growing technology startup, and use it as a launching pad for your own entrepreneurial ambitions.
Follow the Timing: Startups Hire when They Raise Capital
Since most young startups these days don't have overwhelming amounts of revenue - and often, any revenue at all - they are usually dependent on investment to grow. Startups that raise capital are looking for one thing and one thing only: to grow as fast as possible. When you’re bootstrapped, you have the luxury (or the impediment) of taking your time and making decisions based on long-term success; once you’re funded, you have investors and a board of directors to report to, which means you need to grow fast right now.
This is the perfect opportunity for someone like you to jump on the opportunity to join a fast-growing startup.
I've found that oftentimes a start-up will raise money with the intent of expanding their team, but their planning will almost never be exact. They will have outlined a business plan to add a business development manager, an ace growth hacker, maybe a community manager, plus three hardcore developers. But their company does not exist in a vacuum. They will fill these positions with the best talent they can find and get. This might mean that they snag a talented web marketer who can also fill the community manager role, or they might decide that one of the roles they had outlined is not as important anymore.
The point: these situations are the most fertile ground for someone to approach a start-up with a cold pitch. Tell them exactly what value you can bring to the table, explain why the company inspires you, and then offer to talk over any opportunities.
Scope Things Out: Find Jobs where Startups Hang Out
Angel List is an incredible resource for keeping tabs on companies. While TechCrunch specializes in breaking funding news, Angel List is where startups actually make themselves known. Think of it as LinkedIn for growing companies - complete with a great jobs listing page. As soon as a company near you raises money, email them immediately.
Another cool startup job outlet to look at is Tyba, which is focused on presenting the environment of each start-up, helping you understand their mission, work style, and vibe. A few companies currently recruiting on Tyba include Dropbox, Mailjet, Volt, and Swiftkey.
Decrease Degrees of Separation: Network, Network, and Network
80% of new jobs come via a person's extended connections - staggering, but completely true. Think about your own experience: how many job offers have you received because you knew somebody? Networking is hands-down the best way to make sure you get the job at the startup that you want.
To network, you need to combine an online and offline approach, and avoid some common blunders.
Twitter is an excellent resource to find people at different companies. Find someone who is doing a job that you'd be interested in doing, then understand them. Follow them, read what they're reading, and ask questions or leave comments to interact with them. When the time is right, ask about opportunities. When you build up social capital, you can spend it to help yourself. You can also build influence and connections on Quora by interacting with people around common problems and questions. Help people out, and they will likely help you back.
There are also start-up specific resources that will help you stay connected to companies and ahead of trends. Startup Digest lets you follow topics, and sends you tailored reading lists. Topics include Emerging Economies, Crowdfunding, and Health. Plus, Startup Grind is a wealth of information about everything in startups and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Aside from having tons of great advice for entrepreneurs, their local chapters can help you meet entrepreneurs in your area!
Build Your Reputation: Earn References & Recommendations
The biggest outcome to networking is building a range of diverse references from those you help and on whom you make a great impression. A reference is incredibly useful when you are applying to a company (especially one that has just raised money) and you know someone on the inside. Chances are they are not the hiring manager, but they can push your application to the top of the pile. They can vouch for you, which, in more cases than not, will make or break your submission.
A hot start-up might receive hundreds of resumes per day. Who has time to read through each one? Some companies even use filters to identify keywords and then discard the other resumes. But when a resume gets handed to the hiring manager from a current employee, your experience will have an incredible amount of clout.
Getting a job in a growing startup is the best way to learn how to manage and grow a team effectively, how to evolve your role as a founder when your company is growing, and how to build a vision that consistently keeps everyone productive. Conversely, it could be a great example on what not to do when building your own company -- but is still sure to be an enlightening experience. While much of the glory in the startup world is assigned to the founders, its the founder's team that is doing the exciting and important work of actually building the future. When you're ready to dive into the strategy and tactics to land your first startup job, check out our detailed startup employment guide.
Learning by working at a startup right now, or hiring for positions that will teach new hires how to eventually become entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments!