I take a ton of meetings with people asking me about opportunities in our portfolio. For a lot of people, I feel like I’m the one being asked to do the work of finding them something.
For a select few people, they understand that startups need a lot of help, and fall in love with the people who are motivated and show that they can offer help right off the bat.
On February 28th, I got a note from Megan Towe… She didn’t feel like her current job (her first job out of school) was a good long term fit. Her roommate works at a startup and so she decided to research opportunities. She wrote:
“I recently came across your article "Building a Great Company Culture is Critical When You're a Startup" ....I found your article during my current search for business development and operations opportunities at young, non-corporate organizations...The article strongly resonated with me and I would love any guidance you may have on pursuing entry-level positions in the startup field”
I get a lot of these notes, and it just so happened that I was free for breakfast that Monday, so I agreed to meet. That’s one aspect of this type of thing that can’t be overlooked—timing. I’d love to meet with everyone that sends me these notes, but I can’t. I need to prioritize my time for the entrepreneurs we backed and might backed (and family and such…) so it was kind of a little lucky that I happened to have a free spot, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to see her for like a month and a half b/c of travel.
The other thing that was important was that she had obviously taken the time to mention portfolio companies that we were involved in and why she thought they were interesting. If you’re going to meet with me, it’s not hard to figure out which companies we’re involved with or that I’ve worked on specifically.
At breakfast, she mentioned something about exploring business development. I tossed out the idea that she should meet Alex Taub and see if he needed help with the BD event he was working on (which went awesomely, btw).
Here’s where she nailed it—twice. At 10:48AM that day—just an hour or two after we got done with breakfast, I get a note from Alex:
“Megan reached out and I'm sitting down with her. She can help with organizing the event.”
The funny thing is, I never introduced them. I think I maybe just tossed her a twitter account or an e-mail address. She didn’t wait—she just reached out, said that we had met, and offered to help. That really struck me. Usually follow-ups involve work on my part. I’ve never had anyone just go find the person.
On top of that, the next day, this showed up at my office:
Classy. Just really super classy.
So, when Dave Hendricks from Live Intent, one of our portfolio companies that is really taking off, sent me this note, who do you think I sent him?
“We're looking to hire two inexperienced hard charging media sales account management types to supercharge our outbound efforts.”
Yes, that’s right. He wrote “inexperienced.” So all of you who are worried about not having something to offer—realize that the best thing you have to offer, especially at a startup, is yourself. What he meant was that he was willing to get somebody in who didn’t have huge comp expectations upfront (until they start killing it on the sales side), who was willing to work hard, get shown the ropes, and who would be willing to do a lot of the things at a startup that in a bigger company you might have someone else working under you do for you. It’s what some people call hiring an “athlete.” Someone who can just run fast and keep up—and Megan, in just a few interactions, gave me a lot of confidence that she was worth considering for that role. Will it work out? It’s really up to her—and that’s what a lot of new people in the field are looking for: an opportunity to show what they can do.
And that’s what she got. On March 21st, less than a month after her first e-mail to me, I got this note:
“Today I gave my two weeks notice, and in two weeks I am going to start working at LiveIntent. I went to meet their team and visit the office, and I really fell in love with all of them. I am so excited for the experiences to come, and am ready to dive headfirst into their business.
Thank you so much for putting me and Dave in touch. I am going to continue to do me best to succeed and make sure I prove that the faith you put in me was worth it.”
So there you have it. Was it luck? A little bit… but there are a couple of keys to this successful transition that students and new folks in the field can learn from:
Reach out: If she never took the time to write to me and meet up, none of this would have happened. 90% of success is just showing up.
Prove you’re different: What can you do to show you’re not like 99% of the other people who have asked me about jobs, waited for me to do work on my side to find them something, and looked like a million other candidates.
Be flexible: In my experience, most people aren’t in the jobs that fit their personality best. Megan might never have sought out a job in sales, but her personality couldn’t be a better fit. It may or may not be her long term aspiration, but to work with a great team and to get a change of scenery, she was willing to try something new that she wasn’t planning on.
Offer value: Offering to help Alex get the word out on the BD event made me feel like she had the right “What can I do for you” mentality for a startup.
Return the favor: Every conversation I’ve had with her makes me feel confident that she understands the dynamic of a recommendation: I associate my name with someone when I send them to a portfolio company or a startup I know. We’ll be linked for the duration of her time there and so if she succeeds, that’s going to make me look good, and if she slacks off and doesn’t put in the effort, that makes me look bad and makes my next intro less effective. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that it’s not just making the connection, it’s risking social capital—and so her stated willingness to work hard clearly has that perspective in mind. I don’t expect to hear that she’s skipping out of the office at 5PM every day (unless it’s to go meet potential business leads!).