How I Landed a Job at a Hot Startup

8 03 2011

Now this is a story

all about how 

my life 

got twisted upside down

and I’d like to take a minute

just sit right there

I’ll tell you how I became the prince

of a town called [Davis Square]”

A few months ago, I wrote a post

 on my desire to work at a startup.  I received an amazing amount of support for my public decision to 

take the MBA “road less traveled”.  Many of my classmates are now competing for jobs at terrific investment banks and mutual funds, and I wish them all the best, but I’ve learned during my short career that the big business path isn’t for me.  I wanted to work at a startup, where the risk was real, the people hungry, and the learning constant.  I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I was convinced I could make my ambition a reality.

Today is my eighth day as the official Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia, a professional video hosting and distribution platform.  I get paid a salary that I am happy with, I love the job, and the team is amazing.  I can say that I’m excited to get out of bed every morning.  When I solve problems for our customers, I create value for Wistia, and the knowledge I’ve been able to add to the company has already made a real impact.  But I’ll have more time to talk about the details of my job in a later post – this is a story about how I accomplished the first step of my dream; today, I work at a startup.  Now it’s time for me to share how I made that happen.


To Get Started, Make it Public:

In my mind, there was a clear moment when I started down the startup path.  That moment was when I hit the “post” button on “My Life’s Work”.  I had dabbled in pursuing a job at a startup in the past and was already an avid reader of sites like Hacker News, TechCrunch, Venture Beat, Bostinnovation, etc., but now I was fully committed. Once I publicly announced my desire to work at a startup, I knew I couldn’t go back.  l simply couldn’t end up with t  The typical “MBA factory” job burns through newly minted grads and assigns tasks that are sometimes menial at best. Now, if my (meager) blog following found out I had joined the masses at a job like that, what type of role model would I be?  Looking back, this was my first lesson learned: Get your goal in writing.  Only then can it be measurable, and then you WILL be held accountable.

Hustle:

So, I dove headfirst into startups.  I spent all of my free time reading posts by entrepreneurs/investors/gods like Paul GrahamDave McClure, and Steve Blank.  I connected (however briefly) with startup superstars like Jason Shen and Micah Baldwin.  I attended startup events. I listened to Jason Calacanis and Mark Suster constantly (favorite episodes: Mo Koyfman and Brad Feld). In school, I focused on excelling in areas that would get me in front of startup-connected people.  I presented to VCs as part of a business plan project and worked as an MBA mentor for an undergraduate startup competition.  It was a never ending and somewhat exhausting process, but entering the world of startups is similar to what people say about coding – to really learn, you need to drink from the fire hose (I’m currently trying to learn that on the fly as well – another post!). Lesson number twoFirst know your stuff, and then get active.  Really active.

Seize the Carp:

This is where things get interesting.  In early December, I was performing a harmless search when I came across Wistia.  Very cool product, I thought.  Good blog with a fun culture, I thought.  AMAZING job posting, I thought!  Although I was a long time from graduating and in the middle of the finals week from hell, I quickly replied to the posting through their website.  “Off into the great unknown,” I said to myself, thinking I would never hear back.  I was floored when I received a response from Chris Savage, co-founder of Wistia. Over the next three days, we scheduled a phone and in-person interview. Despite showing up at the office fraying at the edges after an all-nighter, I was excited to be there and open to doing whatever they wanted me to do. Looking back, this was key to my interview success. If you aren’t willing to jump in on any task, no matter how different from your background or expected paygrade, then you need to re-evaluate whether you are really interested in joining a startup. Furthermore, I strongly believe that if I had hesitated and not made time for that in-person interview right away, I wouldn’t be here today. Things move too fast at a startup, and here in Boston they have way too many talented applicants to wait for me. I had to strike when the iron was hot.  I found out later that Bostinnovation had recently named the position one of the hottest startup jobs in town, so I was up against even steeper odds than I thought. Lesson number threeSeize your opportunity and run like the wind with it.

Get Psyched:

Following my interview, there were several weeks of radio silence from the Wistia team as everyone departed for the holidays. Self doubt crept in, and I began to wonder if they had moved on. So I reached out, and I quickly got a response…they liked me, but needed to see more. So I made an unorthodox offer that may have changed my career forever: I offered to work out of the Wistia offices part-time while I completed my prior internship commitments. That is, I offered to trek an hour to Wistia every morning and work with no certainty of ever receiving a full-time offer. Let me be clear: everyone thought I was crazy. But to me, this was an easy decision to make – this was a strong team working on a great product in a cool environment. My skills, and even more so my personality, lined up perfectly with the job opportunity. And maybe most importantly, it was just a bit more than I could handle.  I am going to grow into this role and continue to be challenged for a long time (hopefully forever).  Over the next few weeks, I ground it out, working and learning and barely finding time to study or eat. But when you know what you’re doing is worth it, you find huge reserves of energy. Lesson number fourBe excited to make some sacrifices, as long as you love what you are doing. That’s right, be excited, not just willing.

I won’t bore you with all the details (in this particular post anyway), but the ending of the story is a happy one (but you already knew that). I was lucky enough to receive a full time job offer after three or four weeks of my pro-bono part-time work. My (hardly used) title is Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia, Inc. We work hard, drink beer, and play lots of ping-pong (seriously, come challenge me). My job comes with all the typical startup benefits: long commute, longer hours, and lower base pay than many of my colleagues at business school. But you know what? I haven’t stopped grinning since I got here.




many many thanks to Amanda for proof-reading this!

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