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There are many roads leading to the same place, and I wanted to take the time to document the path I took to the startup world. In a previous post, I described how I broke into tech, starting with an idea and working up the cojones to manifest it into the reality that is 420LIST. It has been a long, arduous journey, but after bouncing around from company to company, I have finally settled in at an amazing startup based in San Mateo, Redbeacon. Now that I am beginning to feel at home (that’s not to say that I don’t still have a lot to prove before I can feel officially accepted as part of the team), I think it is important to share the steps I took to get here, not only hopefully encourage anybody interested in giving it a shot, but also to show my appreciation for the companies that played a major part in getting me to where I am today.
It all started at Livefyre
If 420LIST peaked my interest, Livefyre gave me my first taste of the startup pie – I wasn’t ready to slice myself a piece, but I sure got a finger full of frosting. I have always strongly believe in working to learn, not to earn, and it was this mindset that drove me to apply for an unpaid internship at the San Francisco startup, despite the fact that it would cost me about $500/month to commute twice weekly from Sacramento to the gig. Startups give a lot of value to applicants with startup experience, so I knew getting my foot in the door was a necessary first step, and can’t thank @jkretch and @jennalanger for giving a rookie a shot at the big leagues (thanks, guys, you don’t know how much it meant to me; I wouldn’t be where I am today without y’all). Because of them, and working side-by-side with another passionate intern, @jmatthicks (who would soon be hired for a well-deserved full-time position), I was able to have a front-row seat to the incredibly innovative engineering team at Livefyre. Without this experience, I would have never been taken seriously at any of the companies that I would soon apply to.
Short stints at scrappy startups
After Livefyre literally outgrew the need for me by moving from KickLabs to their own office and hiring more talent, I was soon on the hunt for a new position. I sent out my resume to a few companies on Startuply – a great place to start for anyone interested in joining a startup – and was soon contacted by Blair Jeffris at FixYa. Blair is a great guy and offered me a contract position at the company to help deploy an experimental sales program. It wasn’t the most glamorous of positions, but I humbly accepted and knew that just by being in the environment, I would have the opportunity to learn and meet some really cool, really smart people. The position was short-lived, as the program didn’t gain traction quickly enough to sustain itself. After one month, two months short of the completion of the contract, I was told that, despite my personal success, the program was being cancelled and I’d have to go back to the drawing board.
I started sending out my resume and was soon contacted by Getzy Fellig, a recent Bay Area transplant from New York who moved here to take his startup to the next level. Words cannot describe the drive and persistence of Getzy, who moved his wife and three children to San Francisco to take advantage of the magic of the Bay. I was again offered a sales position in his company, Nadanu, with the task of contacting various non-profit organizations to educate them on Nadanu’s technology and their take on online donations for NPOs. We soon both realized, however, that I added more value to the company with the community management skills I learned at Livefyre (thanks again, guys) and during the previous year of running 420LIST. Getzy appreciated my ethical approach to SEO, and I quickly shifted gears and began making noise in the Twittersphere and blogosphere.
As fate would have it, I would soon receive a phone call, one that I neither expected or was fully prepared for, from a recruiter that had received my resume from several weeks back. She invited me to interview with a company called Redbeacon in San Mateo and informed me that it was founded by 3 Xooglers (ex-Google employees) and recently funded with a considerable Series A round. I am always open to options, so I took the interview without any expectations. The interview was relatively short and to the point and would be followed by a more in-depth interview the next day that would include a couple-hour test-run on the phones with the two other Wizards. Suffice it to say I passed both tests and was offered the job on the spot. My excitement was bittersweet, as it would entail leaving Getzy hanging right when we started building a lot of momentum with the online community management of Nadanu. Although I felt horrible doing it, I contacted Getzy to make him aware of my new position and the offer I couldn’t refuse.
Home, sweet home
Now I may be jumping the gun just a bit, but I balance it out by working my ass off and being sure to not take the position for granted. I am all about paying my dues, and the coming months will serve as a test for me to prove that I belong at Redbeacon and will contribute a lot to their ambitious efforts to change the services industry. I am surrounded by literal geniuses with degrees (including Masters and PhD’s) from universities like Dartmouth, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard. Luckily they are one of the coolest groups of people I’ve ever worked with, and thanks to the upbeat attitude of my fellow Wizard @garrps, the office is bursting with an energy that makes me love coming to work everyday, a feeling I am not used to. I am in it for the long-haul and excited to be a part of something amazing.
It felt good to get all of this out, and I hope it encourages anyone on the fence to take a leap of faith into the simultaneously intimidating and welcoming world of startups.