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How to Get Hired By a Hot Startup – Value

Applying to a startup is completely different than applying to a large company. You’ve probably keyword-stuffed your resume to get through the HR screening. At a startup, everything is about value.

1. Understand Your Value Proposition

At it’s most basic, a value proposition is the benefit (or value) someone gets from something they pay for. Like a company trying to sell you a new product, you need to understand your value proposition to a startup.

If I was applying to work at Select Start, my value proposition would be:

  1. Designed, architected and developed 20+ iOS, Android and BlackBerry applications.
  2. Practiced Lean Startup principles to take multiple products from idea to market and deliver a revenue run rate of over $2M annually.
  3. Experience developing customers, testing ideas and validating markets prior to building a team and committing resources to a product.

What value can you bring to my startup today?

2. Tell a Story with Numbers

Great startups run lean and question everything. Every dollar out needs to equal more than one dollar in for the company to grow.

Using concrete numbers, tell a startup how you can add value. Explain how past experience may help a future startup:

Bootstrapped from $0 to $1M in revenue our first 18 months. Lead Select Start to our third year of 300% growth.

How does your value impact my top and bottom lines, products or customers?

3. Be A Generalist

There’s nothing more valuable to a startup than someone who understands the challenges every startup faces.  Do you:

  1. Bring a broad array of skills outside of the role you were hired for?
  2. Know how your decisions impact a company’s burn rate?
  3. Understand how you can help create a sustainable competitive advantage?

Where else can you add value to a startup besides the role you were hired for?

4. Value Outside of a Startup

I Google everyone who applies to find out if they add value to the startup, engineering and design communities.

Make it easy for a startup to find your value. List your:

  1. Personal website.
  2. Social profiles like Twitter and Facebook.
  3. Creative profiles like Github, Stack Overflow and Hacker News.

Where could a startup investigate the value you create?

5. Be Valuable To Others (Get Referred)

A rule of raising investment is to get a referral from someone who the angel or VC respects. The same is true of applying to a startup. Find a way to connect with the founders via a mutual friend. Your odds of being hired are infinitely better than submitting a resume to the pile.

Who will vouch for the value you create?

Your Brain On Recruiting

A friend received a letter from a company recruiting for Amazon.  It’s a thing of beauty, really.  Let’s look at “your brain on recruiting”.

My name is [REDACTED]; I am a Partner with [REDACTED], a new firm that partners with early stage startups and leading companies that are at the forefront of disruptive technologies. We’ve helped build amazing technical teams at Apple, Microsoft, Netscape, Amazon, Google, and Ning, and love the energy and passion of high growth companies that are working on software that changes the world. With [REDACTED], that’s all we work on.

Between 2003 – 2006, our team helped build out Amazon’s first revolutionary technology movement, which we now know to be Amazon Web Services, Personalization & Recommendation Systems, and the Kindle. We are partnering with Amazon once again to build the next generation of industry disruptors which will make a massive shift in digital media. Video is the next big movement, and Amazon is revolutionizing not only the ability to watch any video across any device, but also how movies are being made in the industry. At the heart of this movement is Amazon’s Video On Demand engineering team which is comprised of 6-8 small, agile teams working on issues around scalability, performance, security, UI development, quality, mobile, data analytics, all at Amazon scale. This is Amazon’s next bold bet, and we think this could be a fantastic opportunity for you, and that comes along only once in a lifetime.

This Amazon engineering team will be in the Montreal and Ottawa areas in late March to meet with Software Engineers who are interested in joining the team. What is a good time to connect this week to discuss this opportunity?

Thanks for your time, and look forward to speaking. 

1.  Establish Social Proof

We’ve helped build amazing technical teams at Apple, Microsoft, Netscape, Amazon, Google, and Ning, and love the energy and passion of high growth companies that are working on software that changes the world.

They’ve worked with great companies.  Chances are you love one of them, so you should love Amazon too.

2.  Establish Credibility Using “Sexy” Success

…our team helped build out Amazon’s first revolutionary technology movement, which we now know to be Amazon Web Services, Personalization & Recommendation Systems, and the Kindle.

This makes candidates associate with something from Amazon they know, respect or even love.

3.  Make It Personal

…we think this could be a fantastic opportunity for you…

Hundreds of people will get the same letter.  Each one of them will think Amazon is speaking directly to them.

4.  Make It (Artificially) Scarce

…and that comes along only once in a lifetime.

Forget that they said that Amazon has been creating revolutionary products for the last six years.  They want you to consider this a scarce opportunity.

5.  Make It Inevitable

What is a good time to connect this week to discuss this opportunity?

The letter makes it seem like the process is already in motion.  It’s easy to go with the flow.

Does this make you want to work for Amazon?

He Cannot Do It Alone

Things have been going well lately.  My company is growing, another is starting, and I work with most of my best friends.  We’re at the inflection point every startup hopes they hit.  It’s the difference between a small five-person company and a renowned studio like Teehan+Lax or Big Spaceship.

I was looking through my safe for my passport and was reminded me of something my dad said to me seven years ago.  Well, he didn’t say it, but we understood it.

My dad passed away in October, 2009 when I was 24.  He was terrifyingly smart.  He dropped out of grade 12 with one credit left due to sheer boredom.  He started working three jobs, bought and paid for my parents’ house in his early 20’s.

Years later he trained as a pipefitter at Atomic Energy where he had a near 30 year career.  Although not one himself, he worked alongside PhDs in nuclear physics and engineering, building what they designed. I don’t doubt he could have been a PhD himself, but I suspect he always resented that he wasn’t.

My dad’s fatal flaw was that he would never ask for help.  We used to have intensely technical conversations about the inner workings of nuclear reactors, or debate articles from the business section of the Ottawa Citizen.  Conversely, he found it difficult to talk to me about past mistakes or his health.  It wasn’t in his nature to discuss “personal” things, or to burdon anyone else with problems.

My parents weren’t wealthy people, so at 17 I left for university in Ottawa with only few thousand dollars I had saved.  I had no idea what I was going to do for money in a few months, but I knew I could figure it out.

As I was unpacking I found a small note from my dad.  It simply said:

A boy becomes a man when he realizes he can do on his own.  A man is truly a man when he realizes that he cannot do it alone.

Taped to the note was a quarter.  We never talked about the note, but we had an implicit understanding that I had read it.  There would come a time when I’d need to ask for help, and that would be okay.   A quarter was his way of saying to call, even if it’s not what he would have done himself.

Flash forward seven years later.  We’re treading into waters I never thought we’d deal with:  negotiating multi-million dollar contacts, trying to disrupt entire industries and helping friends build their careers.

To borrow from my dad:  A good entrepreneur thinks that they can do it alone.  A great entrepreneur knows that there is no way they can do it alone.  Thanks for all of the help.  You guys know who you are.

He had discovered a great law of human action: to make a man covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.

Mark Twain
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Adam McNamara