You are reading part three of a three-part Startup Life series from StartupGeist helping you to cope with the startup roller coaster…
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
― Steve Jobs
He who is well prepared has half won the battle!
If you consider this wise old saying, you will be asking yourself what might increase your chances successfully starting or joining a startup.
Here’s a list of six things you might want to do:
- Knowledge: Learn the Startup Basics
- Network: Visit Startup Events and Meetups
- Experience: Do an Internship at a #Startup
- Passion: What Topic Motivates You?
- Goals: What do You Want?
- Execution: Start a Side Project
Of course, it’s not exhaustive — you might find other things that are just as helpful for your career.
Remember: Always make sure that you can move your startup forward in an area that is most important.
It’s either traction or product!
And be aware: It’s not only about hard skills, but more so about the right soft skills and mindset.
P.S. You are reading part three of a three-part Startup Life series from StartupGeist helping you to cope with the startup roller coaster:
- Startup Life: The Scary Truth No One Tells you
- Startup Motivation: 5 Bad and 5 Good Motives to Start a Startup
- Startup Life: How to Prepare for the Rollercoaster
#1: Knowledge: Learn the startup basics
If you think that a startup is the best place for you, learning about startup basics is tremendously important. Try to get an understanding of the most common concepts like ‘lean startup’, ‘customer development’, or ‘growth hacking’.
Find startup blogs or magazines and start reading them regularly to see what the scene is engaging with right now.
On my StartupGeist resource site, you find my favorite blogs, books, and podcasts (p.s. quickly download my RSS subscriptions and import them to your RSS reader of your choice or go along with Feedly, my favorite).
And additionally immerse yourself in:
- Startup Mystery: What is a Startup?
- The Startup Path Series (Why 75% of all Startups fail and What makes only a FEW startups successful?)
- 10 Learnings from my first Startup.
- The Startup Life Series.
If people see that you’re well-informed and up-to-date, they will be left with a much better impression and find it more worthwhile spending their time with you.
This is, however, not about posing.
The fact is that your knowledge might become relevant — no matter what it is!
If you join an early-stage startup, there aren’t — most likely — clearly defined roles. There aren’t experts for each topic. If you’ve acquired knowledge the startup might profit from, you’ll have a great chance to create an impact with it! That can be fulfilling (as opposed to being a small wheel in an Industrial Age corporation).
#2: Network: Visit startup events and meetups
There are numerous startup events in each startup hub. Many of them are very welcoming to beginners who have not achieved a fantastic track record or collected a lot of business cards already.
Join some of them and try to get immersed as much as possible! Don’t make the mistake of only talking with recruiters who stand at the startup booths. Startup people are super open and enjoy talking about what they are doing.
So there is no reason why you should shy away from talking to them.
Firstly, if you ask yourself what topics you should talk about, don’t worry. You probably already have a sense of what interests you about startups. Talking to people at startup events about that will be a great opportunity to learn more, and it will probably create some inspiring conversations, which will make your partner feel more like catching up with you later.
Secondly, be yourself. Be authentic. Don’t pretend to be someone else, trying to make a better impression. In startup land, we don’t need this behavior. Nobody appreciates this. Hence …
Thirdly, don’t be afraid to ask people directly if they know about other people you should talk to or internship offers that might be suitable for you. Business networking is straightforward, and it will most likely leave no wrong impression if you openly state what you want. However, always offer something in return.
Fourthly, collect business cards. Hence, contact details.
Follow-up tips after networking
Firstly, send your new contacts a ‘thank you email’ after the event. Add a reference to an article or topic you spoke about. Try to be giving and helpful.
Secondly, keep messaging your new contacts by sending them birthday congratulations or awesome articles you found (pro tip: already define a reminder in your calendar).
Thirdly, give, give, and give.
Fourthly, try to meet them in person at least once or twice a year. You might find your future co-founder that way.
#3: Experience: Do an internship at a #Startup
Yes, this one is super obvious. But it’s still one of the best ways to prepare for several reasons.
Firstly, as I noted there are many myths about startups that make people want to work in a startup for all the wrong reasons. If you join one and do an internship, you experience how it is, and then decide whether you want to work in such an environment or not. Your answer will be equally beneficial for your career decision as for any startup founder.
Secondly, there’s a good chance that you will be hired full time if you do your job well. It is common for startups to hire people who have proven their value. I am always seeing examples of people who start doing grunt work as interns and then turn into full-time employees — sometimes even reaching management positions!
Thirdly, an internship will allow you to build a network in the startup world. It holds true even if you only make ties to your startup’s team mates. You just cannot know who will start the next big thing. It could be the dude sitting next to you right now. Don’t underestimate the power of a foot in the door through such a contact!
#4: Passion: What topic motivates you?
Successful startup founders and startup experts don’t get tired repeating that you have to be passionate about something to be successful with it.
Passion is the only thing that allows you to do great work. In his famous Stanford speech ‘Stay young, Stay foolish’, Steve Jobs notes:
I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Hence, the most successful startup founders consider it critical to hire the most passionate people. If you can’t prove that you sincerely care about things, you will have a hard time finding a job or equally so starting a startup.
At my company, my cofounders and I have risked everything to succeed. Two years ago we had no money, massive credit card debt, and no one believed in us. Today we have investors, users, and we’re growing. As we ramp up, we need to bring on people to our team to help push us forward. We’re looking for people who are just as passionate as we are.
Be yourself — Everyone else is taken
You might be tempted to fake it. To hack the system. Don’t be unauthentic. Don’t lie to yourself — rather find the thing that moves you!
Being successful is fucking hard — especially so in startup land!
There will be sad and stressful times. Take this for granted. It’s a fact. Any startup only grows big if the team keeps pushing and successfully fighting the challenges along the path.
Startup stress vs. corporate stress
Yes, there are also phases in corporate life when you give 150% for a month or so — to set up a marketing campaign before new product launches. But now imagine that the product launch runs poorly.
In a corporation, you might just file the launch as ‘failure’ and hope for a better future. No startup can do that because resources are extremely limited and can’t be just written off. The only solution for you and the team is to give 300% for the months that follow — or die!
Sounds crazy? Yes, it somehow is.
Only if you are passionate about what you are doing, will you develop the strength to keep this up.
Startup life: The scary truth
And let’s be honest – if there is no form of passion involved, working for a startup isn’t worth your time anyway.
Remember: low pay, long hours. Bad times will turn into nightmares. If you don’t love your work and are not willing to do it 24/7, you won’t be good at it. Don’t commit yourself to that just because it’s considered cool right now.
What’s passion anyways?
You might ask yourself now:
What does being passionate actually mean?
Do I have to have a fetish for online pet stores, online affiliate software or whatever is being built out there? Good question!
It might be a good start if you love looking into a subject you might later work on or if you see a problem and feel a strong inclination helping to solve it.
Anyway, it does not have to be like that!
As Joshua Kleimann — investor — notes that passion does not have to be about the technology or the “social impact” you will make.
There are many successful founders who are passionate about creating a multi-million dollar company and crushing their competition.
How to find your passion?
But how do you become passionate if you aren’t already?
Let’s go back to Jason Freedman who gives good tips on what you might try:
- Surround yourself with people who are passionate about something themselves because it’s contagious by nature.
- Take deep dives into different topics and see if they fascinate you. Be patient about this because it takes the time to get into a subject!
- Be always open to learning new things. Don’t settle with skills and knowledge that you already have acquired.
- Make, build, do, and solve something for yourself because doing something practically gives you a whole different connection than just reading about or analyzing it! As Jason notes: ‘Making stuff is liberating. It taps into your creative potential.’
- Doing a side project is beneficial for finding a startup job or starting a startup by exploring your passion, for several reasons (read more about it next).
#5: Goals: What do you want?
Finding your passion isn’t enough.
Once you’ve learned more about startups and figured out how they might connect to your personal interests and passion, you need to get a clear picture of what you’d like to do.
- What are your goals?
- Which role do you want to be responsible for?
- At which stage do you want to join?
- What startup culture do you prefer and believe in?
- Why do you want to be in a startup at all?
These questions are important because good startups are very picky when it comes to hiring. They will only take you on board if they think that you ‘fit in’ — skill and culture wise.
Hence, you cannot fake a good impression. Even if you do so, you will be f*cked later because the team and you will be disappointed about the bad choice.
If you don’t really know what you want, then don’t become part of a startup!
Moreover, having a clear picture will also make it easier for you to search for positions that fit your interests, values, and passion.
Example: Let’s take leveraging your network. Any contact will recommend you for a job or internship if she knows that this is what you want and genuinely care about. Think about it: Why should someone otherwise introduce you to anyone? Just because you are curious and looking for an internship at a startup? These guys will consider it a waste of their time (and rightly so).
—Bottom Line: Do your homework. That’s why you should become clear on what you want and what price you are willing to pay.
I know it sounds somehow so random. Find your talent! Find your passion! Define goals accordingly. But — fortunately for some or unfortunately for most — it’s true.
Only few — the fortunate’s — find and act on their true talents, right passion and define ambitious goals. These primary forces will give you an edge over career optimized business dudes or lazy laggards.
#6: Execution: Start a side project
Yes, you should do a side project — even if you don’t plan to turn it into a company. It’s beneficial in several ways:
Firstly, your project will be an excellent reference for proving to founders that you have some skill. You are a doer. For many startup founders, this practical stuff provides more than a good C.V.! Let’s not forget that your project might also act as proof that you have developed a passion for something which is also crucial (see the last point).
Secondly, a side project will not only prove that you have certain skills, but it will also help you to acquire a lot of them, too! You will always be confronted with small challenges and learn as you overcome them. If you do lose interest quickly, you might ask yourself if you are persistent enough actually to start or join a startup.
Thirdly, if you stop your side project too early, you are not ready to launch a startup. Read Seth Godin’s book ‘The Dip’ if you ask yourself when it’s the best time to start over and quit.
Fourthly — and ultimately — Sam Altman, president at YC, advises you to think initially about your startup as a project — not a business — because projects have very low expectations. It means fewer people involved and less capital needed.
It’s far better to be thought of — and to think of yourself — as a project than a company for as long as possible, so you get the good parts of both flexibility and focus.
The best companies start out with ideas that don’t sound very good. They start out as projects, and in fact sometimes they sound so inconsequential the founders wouldn’t let themselves work on them if they had to defend them as a company. Google and Yahoo started as grad students’ projects. Facebook was a project Zuckerberg built while he was a sophomore in college. Twitter was a side project that started with a single engineer inside a company doing something totally different. Airbnb was a side project to make some money to afford rent. They all became companies later.
@Students: MINDSET! MINDSET! MINDSET!
Focus on building the right mindset and values at the beginning of your entrepreneurial career. Start side projects and work on seemingly bad things.
If you are driven by career purposes or a getting rich attitude, don’t start. Because you’ve got it wrong from the beginning.
Even though money is always more tempting than many other things in our world, money — even more so in startup land — is only a means to an end.
For the most successful startup founders, money and financial success aren’t what makes them get up every morning.
It’s their passion and drive/goal to leave a dent in the universe.
- Steve Blank: Books for Startups
- Steve Blank: How to Think Like an Entrepreneur
- Ben Horowitz: Programming Your Culture
- David Cummings: Painted Pictures for Startups
- Sam Altman: Projects and Companies
- Paul Graham: Before The Startup
- Quora: How Do I Join a Startup That is not Hiring, Given That I am Non-Technical….
- Nick Crocker: How to Get a Job at a Startup
- Startup Team Roles: Your 3 Options.
- How To Test Startup Ideas