So You Want to Work for a Startup…
When I joined TNW, I didn’t want to work for a startup. I didn’t know better, so I thought that all technology blogs were pretty much the same.
Oh the things that I would learn.
I learned that TNW was young, hungry and scrappy. I learned that some blogs sent 30 people to a press event, when we only had 7 on the entire editorial staff. I learned the meaning of bootstrap, as it relates to money. I learned to enjoy sleeping on air mattresses and eating ramen. I learned to be happy with less, and to find excitement in staying lean.
When I started talking to Bart at FullContact, I did so with a few more years of experience and understanding. I knew that there were important questions to ask, numbers to be discussed and concessions to be made.
Chances are, if you read what I write here, you’re either a founder, a startup employee or you’ve considered becoming one of these. Not that I’m old and wise, but I want to share with you my decision process, in hopes that it will help yours.
This isn’t about the touchy-feely stuff, where you feel compelled or driven or you simply must be involved. This is about investigation, decision making and harsh realities.
Talk To Your Partner
Whether it’s a husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, live-in or whatever, you had best talk to them. And keep talking to them. Let them know everything that you find. Their input will not be as blinded as your own. Candace knows everything that I know about FullContact, except for what I’m legally bound to not discuss. Her insight was positively invaluable.
Do Your Homework
Check Crunchbase. How much money have they raised? Who were the investors? Who is the CEO? What did they do before? Who is the CTO? What have they built before? What is the product? Who is the competition? Who are the mentors and advisors? Did they attend an accelerator? Talk to the staff. Talk to the other founders in their class. Find out everything you can about the company. Dig up every scrap of dirt.
Meet The Team
Whether it’s 1, 2 or 50 people, these are going to become your family. You’d better be able to not just function, but to excel with them. I almost accepted an offer without meeting the team. It would have been profoundly stupid.
Read (Almost) Everything
Find stories from people who have done what you’re looking to do. Read the horror stories. Don’t read the feel-good fluffy stuff. Know that your chances of failure are exponentially higher than the chances of success. Understand that you will forever, at some level, be judged by the work that you do with this company. Your failure (or success) will be monumentally public. Everyone will know.
Examine The Culture
Bart just did a great talk about this in our monthly all-hands meeting, so I won’t steal his thunder because I’m pretty sure the talk will be public soon. But know this - Culture isn’t ping pong and free beer. Understanding what makes the culture of the company you’re looking to join is probably the single most important thing that you can know. If it’s not your single most important factor, re-evaluate your decisions.
Ask Hard Questions
When I met with Bart and Ben, I hit them with questions that would make most management teams squirm. They didn’t flinch.
- How much money is in the bank?
- What’s the burn rate? / How much runway?
- What’s the MRR/CMRR?
- What’s the end of year goal?
- Who is your competition?
- What do they do better than you?
- Will I be offered stock in lieu of higher pay?
- How does vesting work? Is it a cliff or graded?
- Why did you hire ________?
- I talked to __, they said __. Why is that?
- What does success look like for your company?
- Why are you interviewing me?
Be Completely Transparent
We all have crap in our lives that we’re not necessarily happy about, and we don’t like sharing it. But if it will make it harder to employ you, or if it will impede your plans, you’d better lay it out on the table in the pre-hiring days. Showing up on day 1 and telling your boss that your entire life has to change is a jerk move.
Why I’m At FullContact
I did my homework. I knew that FullContact had raised $8.8 million across four rounds of funding. I asked Bart what was in the bank and he told me. He told me the burn rate and discussed what it would take to move forward without hitting the end of the runway.
I knew that Foundry led the Series B, and I have a huge amount of respect for that group. I knew that David Cohen, The Iron Yard and Dave McClure were in on the round. I know their past investments, and their hit rates.
I met the team. I love the team. Every single person there is smarter than me, and I am excited about that.
We know our competition. We know what they do better (and worse) than us. We know what we’re good at, and we know where we fail.
Bart was completely transparent with me. I told him everything that I found, and he could speak to each point specifically. There was never any shirking.
I decided to work for the long-term goal. I could have made more money somewhere else, but I would have been another face in a huge crowd. I went with the team that’s crazy enough to make crazy work. We don’t dream of a billion-dollar company; we know that it is reality and we are doing what it takes to get there.
This isn’t the life for everyone. You can work less, make more and probably have an easier road ahead of you if you sit your tail in a cubicle for the next 20 years with freshly-pressed khakis and polo shirts on casual Friday. But if the very thought of that makes you cringe, then put on your big kid pants and start digging. There’s plenty of opportunity. You just have to have the guts to embrace it.