I’m a startup proselytizer. Anyone not working at a startup who’s had coffee or a meal with me will tell you that at some point in our conversation I probably slipped in something about working at a startup. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn, make a difference, see results, have responsibility, etc. and I think everyone should at least try it once. Here’s how:
- Immerse yourself in a tech/startup community. Most big cities have one - you don’t have to move to silicon valley (and if you’re thinking about it, come to New York instead). Put your email address on all the local newsletters (in NY, at least subscribe to Charlie’s), attend every event (especially the ones you don’t think are relevant), and just be an outgoing, friendly person.
- Read the industry papers. I read TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Silicon Alley Insider, Hacker News, and a few others. They all talk about startups that have just raised a round of financing (meaning they have money in the bank). Those are the ones that are hiring. Capital raises are referred to in rounds: a company raises a Series Seed/A, then a B (maybe a year or so later), then a C, etc, until they are sold or go public. The earlier the round the smaller the team and the more scrappy/cash strapped they will most likely be. Also try searching the archives on those sites for your areas of interest to see if anything has come around recently.
- Become an expert before you reach out. When you’ve found an interesting startup, learn everything you can about it, the space, and their competitors. And then learn more. Figure out how you can add value, reach out, and then offer to work for free. Prove you’re worth the money and they’ll bring you on.
While this is focused on tech (by the way, everything today involves tech – from fashion to education), the same idea can be generally applied: immerse yourself, learn all you can, then prove your worth. For more in-depth thoughts, check out Alex Taub’s posts on the subject.
I’m often asked, “I have a bunch of great ideas about X, but how do I start a company?” I’m sure many books have been published on the subject, but the answer is quite simple: just build. An MBA - or any degree - is definitely not required. Now, some people are not meant to start companies, but if you have a great passion for changing the status quo and are willing to sacrifice A TON to get there – really – here’s how:
- Start building a product. You can plan all you want, but no one reads business plans. Your product should speak for itself, and those who understand the space you’re building in will know when they see something great. If it’s not great, iterate until it is. (Usually that’s when people outside of your family start using it. The industry jargon is “achieving product/market fit”).
- Spend as much time as you can learning about the space you’re building in and experiencing the pain you’re solving for while you’re building the product. Talk to potential customers, partners, and other companies in the space. The better you understand the pain, the better and more focused your product will be. The best test for how well your product solves a real need is how much someone will actually pay for it (or some part of it).
- If you can’t build it yourself, find someone who can, or learn to do it yourself. I’ve seen many great companies where the person with the initial idea was not technical (a coder/builder). If you decide to go looking, find one as fast as you can, and make that person your partner. Outsourcing the initial product development generally does not work. Why? Because you can’t sit next to the person and collaboratively iterate at 3am until you reach product/market fit. Also, you want that person to be as hungry for success as you are.
- If your ambition is to build something huge and you need capital to do it, launch your product and iterate until you have measurable traction – defined as users, growth, and engagement –, then pitch an Angel/VC for financing. You can pitch me here. Most professional investors will not be interested until you can demonstrate that what you have is interesting to your customers. Many companies can grow into big successes without raising any venture capital at all. If you can achieve this, more power to you, because venture capital is some of the most expensive capital available.
And that’s it. The sooner you start, the better. There’s really no downside for someone a few years out of college to do something like this. And it will probably be the greatest learning experience of your life.
Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: working on something really neat....
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid. Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Blaze (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce), Klout, Indiegogo, Enterproid, ShowMe, LocalResponse, and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.