“How do I get involved with startups?”

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Last year I wrote a blog post about leaving a large consulting firm to join a startup. That post got thousands of views and at least a dozen people have asked for my advice on making a similar transition. Here are some of my thoughts. Please post any additional advice you might have in the comments (I am certainly not the most qualified person to respond to this question!).

Q:

Michelle –

I really enjoyed reading your posts on why you left consulting and how you knew it was time to quit. I thought I’d reach out since it struck a chord with me.

I’m really interested in joining a startup for many of the same reasons you were. Based on your experience, what’s the best way to go about finding the right (or better) type of startup/environment/role coming out of a consulting gig? Clearly, you don’t just apply to a position, and yes “networking” plays an important role, but what, if any, are useful and specific steps to take in that direction?

A:

Thanks for reading my posts! Here are some things you can do to introduce yourself to the startup world.

  1. Move to a city with a startup ecosystem. Here in SF there are so many people in startups it’s easy to make friends that are already immersed in this world and will be able to help you.
  2. Take any opportunity you can to help someone. For example, make an introduction, proofread a blog post, help them move furniture.
  3. It will be much easier to get a job by knowing someone, or by being recommended to someone, than by submitting your resume blindly. Try to make as many friends in startups as you can.
  4. Go to meetup.com and look for startup, developer, or entrepreneurship-related groups in your area. Start going to events and introducing yourself to people. Find people working on cool stuff and see if you can find teams you can help. Not everyone in these groups is going to be cool, but you can probably find a few friendly and connected folks that will know about other cool events and people.
  5. Follow startup news on HackerNews (news.ycombinator.com). Tech Crunch is another source.
  6. Take a couple of weekends or weeknights to teach yourself to code something. Try a ruby on rails project. There are lots of meetups for learning to code too. Even if you don’t see yourself becoming a developer, exposure to this world is good. And you might like it 🙂
  7. Look for job postings on craigslist and apply for tons of stuff, even jobs you don’t want, just to see who bites. Even if you don’t want to work for a particular company, interviewing there will be a good learning experience for the next interview. You could use ifttt to email you every time a posting is made that includes the word “startup” so you can send them your resume. Another thing you could search for is “customer development” (something I think consultants are good at).
  8. Get a twitter handle and put it on your business card. Update your linked-in account. I now use both services all the time, but almost never did in BigCo.
  9. Be prepared to take a lower salary.
  10. Unlike big companies, startups lack formal mentor relationships. However, mentorship is highly valued and encouraged. Advice is given freely. In fact, you can ask almost anyone to meet for coffee or a quick skype call to get their advice. This is a great way to learn more about jobs at companies you like (and make a good impression in case they are hiring at some point in the future). Find people that are doing interesting work and ask if they’d be willing to meet and share some of their wisdom with you.

You’re right that startups won’t be seeking you out, but they need smart people who are ready to tackle a variety of problems. It’s on you to show up on their radar! Hope this helps.

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