Getting a Job in a Startup

Recently, I have noticed a few misconceptions and confusions about getting a job at a startup.

Dollhouse

A startup is not like a dollhouse!  It is not simply a smaller version of a house (e.g. like a dollhouse).  A startup is not a small version of a company.  There are usually no departments (it’s almost always 1 person per role).  There is no such thing as “that’s not my job”, everyone does whatever is needed at a startup, and that can change week-by-week.   So, stop thinking you can apply to be the “strategic financial analyst” for a startup.  That job doesn’t exist, be the CFO or Direct of Marketing instead… since those titles mean “you do everything”.

That said, there are two phases where you can join a startup, the founding phase, and the funded phase.

Founding Phase 

In this phase, you are too early to get paid.  You won’t.  There is no money.
However, you will be able to call yourself a “cofounder”, and you will (or should) get stock.  A “founders share” which is somewhere between 10-20% or so.

The key here is believing and showing that for now, you can you do the whole thing!  What thing?
One of four roles:

  1. Technical – you can build the prototype (yourself, no help)
  2. Sales – closing deals, has a network in the industry and can get the sale. (especially important in B2B companies)
  3. Marketing – All aspects of marketing, including “making the website look pretty” along with: target customer, research, brand, design, lead generation (especially in B2B), content, business cards, etc.  Also, Sales, in the case of B2C (because sales and marketing are basically the same thing in B2C direct startups)
  4. Finance/Ops (rare) – this is not often needed, but sometimes a founder needs help with finance/ops.  You’ll have to do it all: accounting, finance, planning, manufacturing, legal, etc. (FYI: the original idea person is the founder, the others are cofounders)

By the way, yes, you can work a side-job during this phase, but usually at least 1 of you needs to be “full-time” on it. (or you won’t get hungry enough to make it actually launch)

Funded Phase 

During this phase, you get “hired”, and have to “interview”.  You have to”apply” to a job opening.  Good news is, you will get paid (usually less than market rates).  Bad news is, you will not get “much” stock (just a few stock options, like less than 1/4percent, maybe more if you are an executive).

How do you get a job in the funded phase?

  1. Know your role: in this phase, it’s still about what you can do for the company… it has to fit into a box of either: sales, marketing, tech, or ops.  And you have to be willing (and eager) to do anything “legal” to help the company succeed, including get coffee/etc.
  2. Find the job: by networking for sure, but even more so, just by looking on LinkedIn or even craigslist.  Find the open position somehow!  Then apply to it.  By resume, usually, and even better by referral (hence the networking).  Make sure the referral has your resume too though, even startups use those.
  3. Interview: yep. You’ll have to do that.  We’re looking for passion, excitement, and SHOW US how you “have done this job before”.  That is critical.  Don’t apply for a job at a startup that you’ve never done… we don’t (usually) have time to train you.

Transitioning from Founding to Funded Phase

Not all the cofounders join the company in a “paid role” once you get funded.  Usually just 1 or 2 do, then more as the company grows.  Some cofounders never get a paying job out of it… and that’s normal.  (hey you get to keep your stock though, at least whatever % you have vested).

Why Startup vs. Enterprise/Big Company

Simply because it is more fun.  Why?  Because you get to do more things!  Everyone is passionate. And most importantly, what you do matters (to the big picture of the company)!

So, get out there, apply already, and have fun doing it!

8 Startup Things I learned from Austin Game Conference 2016

This year I was delighted to be asked to put together a panel for the 2016 Austin Game Conference.  It was a revival of an old conference that has been sorely missed in Austin.    My Panel, “Why your game company can’t get funded” was highly attended, and I think (hope) highly rated.  The slides are attached below.

However, one of the main reasons to participate in a conference isn’t to “preach” but to “learn”.  I learned a lot by going to this year’s #AGC16, here are 8 things I learned about startups.

1. Games need funding.  Not just game companies (which is what 3 of the 4 people on my panel talk about), but games themselves, small indy studios.  I’m so glad I had Mike Wilson of Gambitious on the panel to talk about how he supports indy games.  When I asked, almost the entire room was seeking funding for their game.  That’s like over 200 people!  Cool!  Gambitious can help!

2. Companies that help games are fundable.  There were several companies at AGC who were “supporting games”, and their business models are not hit-driven, since they make money when the game sells.  I had previously listed one such company here, but took it down due to their request to NOT say their pricing.  I’m disappointed at that, but have removed it to respect their wishes.  That said, I cannot recommend a company that is going to be obtuse about pricing… so I will not be recommending that company.

3. Companies around games, get acquired.  While at the show I stopped by the twitch booth, who was there?  Curse.  Apparently, Twitch bought Curse that week, really cool!

4. Big traction, even without great monetization, can lead to exits!  See the above point about Curse being bought by Twitch.  Twitch understands monetization, and Curse needed that help.  Smart buy Twitch, smart!

5. Huge ideas, get funding in a big way.  This was the first I was exposed to the company called MAGIC LEAP.  They are hiring in Austin, and I’m intrigued!  Some kind of stealth AR company, funded by Google, a $1B valuation.  Yep!  Big!

6. Great ideas need to be launched to become great.  I ran into an old friend, and they had to take a break from their startup.  As a result, their startup kinda stalled.  Fortunately, they are back at it, but it reminded me: unless and until you launch, you aren’t really doing it.  So DO IT!  Launch!

7. Not every company should do a conference.  There were a large number of booths with no point.  Not hiring, not fundraising, and frankly, looking a little bored.  If you are going to do a conference, have a reason!

8. A conference is a startup too! This one was a reboot of an old conference, but to me it really did feel like home.  All the old-school folks, and a lot of the new folks too, all making new connections and renewing old ties.  The venue was great, the A/V worked, and everything (especially the opening night party) was great.  The only part that was missed (for me) was water for the speakers… Chris promises me they’ll fix that next year!  All-in-all, a great start to a great conference, I hope it lasts for years to come!

Speaking Opportunities Help Your Personal Brand

What do you want to be known for?  The guy or gal that never shows up? The friendliest person who never sparks controversy?  Or, maybe the most energized and opinionated person in the room?

Me, I have opinions.  The only way anyone will care about them though is if I show up.  And the best way to show up is for a speaking opportunity.  That’s why I try to accept as many as I possibly can.
Do you have a unique brand to yourself? Do some volunteering, and let people know, You’d love to speak.  It will help your brand grow!
Recently l, I spoke at Sartup Grind Austin.  I got extreme.  I know, maybe too far?  It’s okay, I will hopefully be remembered as a result!  Don’t just have an opinion, have a FUCKING EXTREME opinion.  If nothing else, it will spark discussion.

A few “extreme points” I made:

1.) Austin is great because we genuinely want to see each other succeed.  We can celebrate successes of our peers and it motivates us more!
2.) California sucks because it is the opposite of Austin.  People there engage in success theatre, and then make Each other feel bad to get motivated.
3.) Just do something!  Stop making plans and instead, launch something already!  Lean Startup trains this, and my message, now part of my new book http://leanstartings.com is that you can learn to launch: my book teaches you how to build a webpage and collect money in about an hour.  No More Excuses!
So, get out there, show up, volunteer, have a message, and speak when invited. I do!

See me next at Austin Game Conference on Sept. 21st!  Game Funding Panel!

Our Need for Validation & Startup Passion

When I started my first company in 2004, I was unsure.  Unsure of myself, my idea, and my ability to execute.  That self-doubt can be crippling; it makes you hesitate to go all in, to really believe.  And if you don’t believe, nobody else will.  You. Have to have the passion to show it.

That is one reason that finding an investor seemed so important to me on my first company.  I thought I needed their validation, even more than their money.  
Validation from a VC is the worst place to get that though!  I didn’t learn that until my second company.  It is far far better to get validation of your idea from preorders or even better, from paying customers.
I guess that is why I love The Lean Startup by Eric Reis so much.  It gives you permission to make an MVP and get going fast, get validation of all your assumptions from real customers!
However, The Lean Startup fails a bit too. It doesn’t tell you what it will be like, that you will hit bumps, and that you must persist (more than just pivot) but persist-pivot!   It also fails to tell you how to actually build that MVP and get it going!  
That’s part of Europe I wrote my book: Lean Startings.  Through storytelling, you learn what it means to persist, to fail, and to succeed.  You also learn how to build that website, how to take preorders or orders, and ultimately how to fulfill and satisfy customers!  
 Please get my book; I wrote it for you!

UT Austin Campus-wide Cofounder Speed Date 9/29 6 PM @ McCombs School of Business

UT Austin Campus-wide Cofounder Speed Date 9/29 6 PM @ McCombs

Being run by Dr. Harlan Beverly, McCombs lecturer of Lean Startup Essentials (MAN 338) at UT Austin (open to students campus-wide)
Join a Student Startup
-or- Find a Cofounder
  RSVP Required

  • Who:   Any UT Austin full-time student interested in joining a student startup or finding a cofounder
  • Where:   McCombs School of Business, CBA 3.304
  • When:    Thursday, Sept. 29 from 6 PM – 9 PM
  • What:    Students will meet in a speed-date format for five minutes each.  Students with a skill looking to join a startup (part of the RSVP process) will circle through the students with ideas looking for cofounders. Each student will be given a stack of 20 business cards with their name, email and EITHER their startup idea or their skill. Matches will be made at the option of the student.  Learn more at http://bit.ly/utcofounder  

Give a sh## = the secret to success!

Forgive my crass title, but so many people these days cuss to do harm.  I cuss to make points!  (Just ask my students at UT Austin).

The point?  Give a Shit!  Really!  If you do, you will:
1.) get the job
2.) get more responsibility
3.) get a raise
4.) get a promotion
5.) achieve your dreams
As soon as you stop giving a sh##, bad things happen.
Persistence is one of the keys to entrepreneurial success, and that means simply keep on giving a shit. 
Be relentless.

A formula to tell if your idea is good: for Engineers & logical thinkers.

Is your idea good?  This comes up in a ton of contexts, from entrepreneurship and startups to brainstorms and even into big companies and small projects.   Even if you are just coding up something, you are usually working from an idea.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know if your idea is good, perhaps even BEFORE you’ve tried it?

The following logical flowchart is designed with that in mind.  Enjoy!

Step 1: Do you think your idea is good?
IF YES: Proceed to next step.
IF NO: STOP!  BAD IDEA!

Step 2: Do others think your idea is good?
IF YES: Proceed to next step.
IF NOT: STOP!  MEET with those others and talk through what’s not good about it, improve it, then go back to Step 1!

Step 3: Will your idea take less than 1 day to build and test?
IF YES:  GOOD IDEA!  Build and test it!   It’s almost always worth it to test an idea you think is good, and get the results of the test.
IF NO: Proceed to next step.

Step 4: Can you build a “fake version” of your idea in less than 1 day and test it?
IF YES:  GOOD IDEA!  Build and test it!   It’s almost always worth it to test an idea you think is good, and get the results of the test.
IF NO: Proceed to next step.

Step 5: Can you build a “REAL or fake version” of your idea in less than 1 day and then test it in less than 1 week?
IF YES:  GOOD IDEA!  Build and test it!   It’s almost always worth it to test an idea you think is good, and get the results of the test.  Sometimes the testing takes longer (like an A/B experiment requires time to gather data).  Still, worth it!
IF NO: Proceed.
Step 5: Is there a way to measure if your idea is good?
IF YES:  Proceed.
IF NO: Rethink the idea to include a way to measure if it’s good or not, then go to Step 1.

Step 6: Work hard to see if you can build it faster in a way that can get you ‘measurable results’ if your idea is good or not….   and then build it and measure it.

That’s it!

I know maybe you were thinking there is some algorithm to “actually” tell you if your idea is good or not… newsflash, it cannot exist.  What can exist though is a new kind of thinking: think measurement first!  If you can’t tell if your idea is good or not (by some measure) then why even ask the question?

No go out there and Measure!

Solving the full problem by focusing on the target market

Got an idea for a startup? Great!  Now, tell me, what problem does it solve?

Well, if you are having trouble articulating that, or, if you want to improve your chances of succeeding… Read on!
So many ideas solve nobody’s problem.  And so many ideas solve a problem only partly; or barely.
If you want to succeed in: your Kickstarter, your indiegogo, your launch, your business – you need to be thinking – what is the full problem!
Here are 3 tips to help you think about the problem you are solving.
1. Target market!  –  really try to narrow down on whom is the target market!  Gender, age, and psychographics!   As specific as possible.  Remember, nothing can solve everyone’s problem, but something can solve someone’s problem completely and make them very happy!
2. Think solve problem, not your idea.  Probably your great idea helps solve the problem, but most likely you can add 2 or 3 components (even if it’s just documentation) to really completely solve the problem.
3. Cut out anything that is not truly necessary to solve the problem for the specific target market you have in mind!
Now, get out and solve something!

Defining Entrepreneurship and Startup

This is a call for a more universally agreed  on definition of entrepreneurship, startup and small business.

My proposal is simple:
Startup – a new business of any kind (big, small, or entrepeurial)
Entrepreneurship – the study of “novel” businesses which has the opportunity to “grow big”
Entrepreneur – a person who has founded or cofounded a “novel” startup which could or did “grow big”.
Small Business – a private non-novel business, with a known risk/reward profile based on prior businesses of that type.
Discuss…

The Lean Startup Toilet Bowl Trap of Getting Nowhere Slowly

Progress.  That’s a nice word.  “We’re making progress…”, says the workers cutting the road through the forest.   Then, a wise leader climbs a tree and says “but you’re going the wrong way!”

That’s all fine and good, and a good lean startup does this often.  It’s called “Pivot” and it’s central to the Lean Startup concept.  But what happens when you just keep pivoting?  Aren’t you chasing your tail?  Suddenly, you have a road to nowhere, or worse, a road that goes in circles.

This is a TRAP!  Your “lean startup” just got into a slowly dieing spiral of doom.  Your dream is getting flushed in the toilet because you keep climbing that tree and realizing that you’re going the wrong way!

Here’s an example of the Lean Startup in the Toilet Bowl Trap:

  1. You build a website and collect some preorders (yeah, progress!)
  2. You ship the preorders and get feedback from customers that they love/hate certain features (yeah, progress!)
  3. You fix the product based on the feedback, and nobody buys it (yeah, progress!)
  4. You PIVOT to a new product and collect some preorders (yeah, progress!)
  5. Jump to step #2, repeat, all the way to the toilet’s flush.

So, how do you get out of this toilet bowl trap?

First, remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.

You have to do something different!

In many cases, the problem is not ‘your product’ or ‘your idea’, but the marketing instead!

Instead of constantly pivoting on “product” you might need to pivot on some of the other 4 P’s of Marketing:

  1. Place: Maybe your lack of orders is because it’s not available where the customers are… and particularly where the customers are that are in the buying mood for what you offer!
  2. Price: Maybe your lack of orders is related to the pricing or pricing structure of your product.  Maybe you need to sell it in parts, or with different options.  It could even be too low!
  3. Promotion: Maybe your lack of orders is related to how you are attracting customers.  Sure, you’re getting a lot of ‘views’, but are those customers: the right ones, in the right mood (buying), with the right goals, with the right problems, with enough education about your solution, etc.?  Or Maybe, your just not reaching your right audience, or just not ‘appealing’ enough to their needs (messaging).
So, avoid the Toilet Bowl Trap: run Lean Startup Experiments on more than just ‘the product’…
Enjoy!