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So you want to join a startup?
Guide on how you should find your next startup
TL;DR - In case you don’t get a chance to read the entire article, here are the four key points you should remember:
1) Understand why you want to leave your current role 2) Figure out what you want from your next role 3) Use AngelList, VC websites and your existing network to make a list of startups you want to talk to 4) During the interview phase and after getting an offer, do your complete due diligence
I recently left LinkedIn to join a early stage startup in the enterprise messaging space called Hall. I was extremely happy at LinkedIn and I really enjoyed my role in the monetization team. So, it came as a bit of a surprise to most of my colleagues, why I was leaving a role I was really happy in (more on that later) to join a startup with an uncertain future. Since leaving LinkedIn, I have talked to over 20 people from various companies who’ve wanted to switch to a startup from a bigger organization. In every single conversation, I felt like I was repeating the same framework I had built when looking for a startup role. In this post, I’ll try to explain the four step framework that helped me find a product role at Hall.
Step #1: Understand why you want to leave your current role
Before you make your mind up about leaving your current role, it’s very important to look deep within yourself and understand why you REALLY want to leave your current role. Have you explored all opportunities at your current role? Have you talked to your manager of expanding your role or taking on new responsibilities? If it’s a coworker or your manager that you’re having trouble with, have you talked to the right person to move to another team? Make sure you exhaust all options in your current role before you decide to move on. In my case, I’ve always dreamed of building my own company. LinkedIn gave me great experience on building products at large scale. I wanted to see if I can build something from the ground up. I wanted to learn how to take a company to it’s first million users/customers. This is why I decided to join an early stage startup like Hall instead of moving to another team at LinkedIn or moving to a late stage startup which already had traction.
Step #2: Build some filters to help find your next role
So, you’ve exhausted all your options at your current role and decided you really want to join a startup? Before you start exploring startups, take a step back and figure out what you want to achieve from your next role. Chances are that you’re going to be in this new role for at least one to four years, if not more. You want to ensure that you achieve these goals in your next role before you move on to something else after that. Write this down and refine these goals till you are satisfied. Once you know what you want to achieve in your next role, use that to build some filters that will help you figure out what kind of startups you’re interested in. It’s OK to go slightly broad first and then eventually filter it down more as you go along the process.
For example, when I first started, my filters were: Location: San Francisco, Funding: Series A. As I started refining my goals and meeting more founders, I made my filters ever more strict and finally ended with: Location: San Francisco, Role: Lead Product Manager, Company size: < 30, Type: Workplace engagement or Health/Fitness, Funding: Series A or Series B. These filters will help you save time and focus on talking to only those companies that you’ll be beyond excited to work at.
Step #3: Where are all the startup jobs?
Now that you know what you want from the next role and a made a list of your goals, comes the question of actually finding the role. I used the following three ways to build a list of startups that I would be very interested to work at:
AngelList & Mattermark
AngelList is the single best website to look at all the startup (especially early stage) opportunities that exist out there. Majority of startups that I heard of had an AngelList profile and open job positions listed there. You can get deeper insight about the company such as investors, funding, potential connections you know etc. You should also check out new entrant Mattermark (free trial) which has many more filters than Angelist like verticals, growth score, news mentions and others. Read their blog post on how to use Mattermark to get a startup job here.
Most leading venture capitalists have their public portfolio companies listed online. Some of them have similar filters like AngelList that lets you quickly cut to the companies you’ll be interested in. Examples include Redpoint Ventures, Greylock Partners, Felicis Ventures and others.
Existing Network a.k.a LinkedIn
Reach out to your existing connections (who you trust) to see if they know of potential opportunities. If you’re going to let people in your existing company know, ensure that they’ll keep it a secret. Tell your confidants about why you want to leave your existing role and the filters that you have developed as part of Step 1 and 2. If possible, ask them to connect you with the founders, of startups that you are interested in, directly.
Step #4: Do your Due Diligence
So using step 3, you’ve found the startups you’re really interested in, reached out to them and set up interviews. During the interview process, it’s very critical you let the company know about your goals and what you want to achieve by joining their team. Do your due diligence on the company and your potential manager. Ensure that he/she’ll will further your development and achieve your goals. I’ve seen a lot of people join a startup in a rush and hate it because it wasn’t what they were expecting. It’s essential for you to convey your goals to your team and most importantly to your manager. Other ways to get deeper insight about the startup is to ask the startup to connect you with their investors. Investors (although biased) are a great way to get more macro information about the industry, market size, company growth and others. Another great and potentially controversial way when you are evaluating companies is to reach out to their ex-employees. Ask them why did they leave the startup. Was it personal or were there issues with the team? Take their notes with a grain of salt but it’s good to have all your bases covered. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a much more holistic picture of the company you’ll be joining other than the picture the company will paint themselves.
I’ve been at Hall for about 2 months now, and I’m really glad I chose Hall amongst all the options I had. It took me a long time (~2-3 months) to find the right startup role, but I’m really glad I spent the time evaluating instead of jumping the gun. What other tips helped you find a startup role? Please leave a comment below to help other people looking for a startup role. Good luck!