Want to work for a startup? Start something first

Michael (MJ) AllenMichael J. (MJ) Allen
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Jun 23
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Conversations I’ve had with a number of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are reflective of the type of personalities, mentalities, and overall fit that it takes to either launch a start up, or work for one.

Whether you’ve ever applied to a startup to jump on the next latest great idea, have a love for the startup culture, or have your own ideas in incubation dreaming to get financing and launch full time, this post touches on a few key areas of the type of ‘fit’ the startup cultures seek and cultivate.

Steve Blank, one of the fathers of the Lean Startup revolution, defines a startup as lean organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. And what does that mean? Well, that the company either doesn’t have a working product, it has a working product that no one will buy (meaning cannot get past the first barrier of market adoption), or it has a product that sells but can’t figure out how to market and sell the product profitably.

Translation: Working at a startup is nothing short of chaos. You’re trying to make something from nothing (at worst) or trying to fix all of the things that exist but that aren’t working (at best). Oh, and ideally before you run out of money.

Given all of this insanity that goes on, how do you prove to a hiring manager at a startup that you have what it takes? How will he or she know that you’re the kind of person who understands the highs as well as the lows and who can push through the dips that you’ll inevitably experience working at a startup?

It’s pretty simple, actually:

Start something first.

Starting something is hard work and pretty thankless most of the time.

Starting something is hard work and pretty thankless most of the time. You’re building stuff, you’re trying stuff, and most of this stuff won’t work the first —or second, or third — time. Talk about discouraging.

But that’s exactly the point. If you’ve gone through the process of starting something meaningful, you’ll know how it feels to try things, fail, bang your head against the wall and try a few more things that will probably also fail. (I know, maybe I should change my pen name to Debbie Downer.)

So, if you haven’t experienced the fear, stress and frustration of starting something, then get to work. There is no better way to build up the mental toughness that’s needed to succeed at a startup.

Not sure where to start? Here a bunch of ideas for you so you can focus less on the idea and more on the getting started:

1. Start a Networking Group or Meetup

With platforms like Meetup, it’s easier than ever to organize a group around your area of interest, whether it’s cooking, coding or college basketball. Of course, organizing is the easy part. Recruiting people, running meetings or events and promoting the group is hard work. And you might fail. But that’s the whole point of this, isn’t it?

2. Start Blogging

Contrary to popular belief, blogging is hard work. It’s one thing to write a couple of posts a month on a blog using a vanilla theme. It’s another (and much more challenging) thing to post good content consistently, add custom features to your blog, perform search engine optimization, and systematically improve it so you attract more readers and followers. Think a startup would be impressed if you did all of those things? Yep.

3. Build an App

Got coding skills? If there are specific startups you’re targeting in your job search, see if they have an API that you could build a Web or mobile app around. Then, show up to your interview with a working prototype, and expect to raise some eyebrows in a good way. If you don’t know how to code, don’t let that discourage you. There are lots of great sites for resources as CodeAcademyTreehouse where you can learn to code at your own pace.

4. Write an Ebook

Writing a good ebook requires commitment and lots of effort and that’s before you even publish it, when you need to get down to business marketing and selling it. I’ve gone through this process myself, having written an ebook about careers in venture capital. If you think you might take this path, check out the things I wished I had known before I wrote my ebook so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

5. Teach a Class

Everyone is an expert at something. So, pick your subject and use a platform like Udemy or Skillshare to teach a class on that topic. It’s a challenge to create compelling content and recruit students for a class, trust me, because I’ve done it myself. Aside from helping you build the tenacity that you’ll need to start your own business, teaching a class is also a great networking opportunity and positions you as an authority within your area of expertise. Bonus points for sure.

6. Throw Ideas @ The Wall

One of my own I’ve added to John’s top 5 list, is don’t fear the limitation of money or time to test your concept. Take the basics of your idea, and throw it at the wall to see if and what sticks.

Look at the global talent pool of designers, programmers, accountants, virtual assistants, business advisors, and even lawyers that offer exceptional and affordable talent (yes, it does exist), to bring your MVP or beta concept to life to validate its potential. (I’ve had a lawyer who worked enterprise contracts for Pepsi, hired for legal contract reviews for less than $300).

99designs, elance.com, odesk.com and others are a few good places to start to search for the talents you need. Or perhaps you’re seeking more sweat for equity to bring aboard the right partner, then consider founders2be. Yet if you don’t have the next best social 3.0 idea and want to go more traditional, browse around and connect with suppliers on alibaba.com.

Now, what are you going to start?

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Credit and republished from John Gannon, author of The Daily Muse.


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