How to Land a Job in a Technology Startup

Technology startup or not, the ideal way to land a job in any company is via a trusted referral - building and nurturing your network that will make someone recommend you is the fastest way.

Here are some more ideas to consider and will be happy to expand on any of these

1. Become an active member of that startup's community

You don't need a job to help the startup you are targeting to be part of. You can add value from outside the company. If your contributions are REALLY good, you will get noticed and probably get picked up sooner than later.

One such story that has always inspired me was from Mrinal Desai, founder and CEO of addappt, inc. Addappt [Twitter: @addappt] was recognized as one of the top 50 business apps for 2013 and with positive endorsements in the WSJ, CNN, NYT and more, addappt is a free [download] connected address book on the iPhone where your friends maintain their contact information on your phone (and you in theirs) privately.

Mrinal shared this story with me a few years ago and he is sharing it again here below.

I had just graduated with my MBA into the dot-com bust in 2001 - I was then in Monterey, CA.

Before I made it to the US in 1999 for my B School, I worked for the premier TATA conglomerate in India for a few years selling SGI systems - I managed SGI's largest AsiaPac account. My prior attempt in 1995 to come to the US had failed when the US consulate had rejected my application for a student visa.

With my visa set to expire one year after graduation, I moved to Portland, OR in 2001 since I could not afford to live in the Bay Area. My daily routine consisted of leaving 'for work' i.e. the local Starbucks, to keep current with the industry, read business books and apply my B school learnings. I made some life long friends with the other regulars at that Starbucks. One of them was a successful entrepreneur who had recently sold his business for $250M - I worked with him to start a new business.

Afternoons typically consisted of online searching on sites like Monster etc. but I spent more time meeting people at various events.

I made varied attempts - the most fun and memorable was my business card with a fill-in-the-blank first name. The person I met would need to write my name down since "Mrinal" was hard to spell or pronounce for anyone in the US. It had a good recall and differentiating factor.


During this phase, I did some part-time contract work but the one that I am most proud of was when I strung lights in wet and cold downtown Portland,OR. It was incredibly hard since I was carrying a lot of baggage - an engineering degree from the top 10 schools of India, work experience with a premier conglomerate doing deals in the millions of dollars, then recently an MBA and very importantly, I had never learned the dignity of labor in India.

It was in 2003 when I read about a startup called LinkedIn - a 'social networking company'. With no clue of what that category meant, I did know that networking was going to my path to employment so I signed up - they had about 40,000 users. I used it to reach out to executives like Shripriya Mahesh, a VP at eBay then, via the introduction feature. She, and other executives like her, responded with initiative to help - it was magical considering the deafening silence from other online attempts!

Having experienced LinkedIn's magic, it was an obvious fit for me. I reached out to them for a job opportunity only to be told they were not hiring business people. Nevertheless, Konstantin Guericke, one of the Co-Founders, was keen on getting product feedback from me as an early user. Even though they had no plans of hiring me, I provided that over a 1 ½ years via email - Konstantin always responded.

As if that was not enough, in 2004 after 3 long years of unemployment, I was hired by Portland General Electric only to be laid off by them in 3 months even though I had closed a big deal for them immediately. Giving up on Oregon, I joined Sprint in Silicon Valley to sell enterprise mobile products. Having known Konstantin, I approached him to buy some Sprint enterprise mobile products for LinkedIn and meet in person for the first time. It was right before they were about to launch their revenue generating products (spring 2005) and LinkedIn had no one in business development. Still a no-brainer for me, I joined them in 2004 as their first business development manager to help launch their premium products.

Many questioned my wisdom of leaving a big brand employer in 3 months to join an unknown upstart after 3 long years of unemployment.

I have boiled my personal takeaways into 4Ps:

- Identify a purpose bigger than something tangible like a job, a career, your self or money. Once you are lucky enough to identify one, passion is inevitable.
- Fall in love with the pursuit - it is about the journey
- Be persistent about achieving that purpose
- Finally and very importantly, your journey is strongly influenced by the people on the bus with you - do not compromise on this.

2. Contribute meaningfully to open source projects

A lot of startups use Open Source software to build their products. If you are an active contributor to the software that's part of the startup's ecosystem, you will get noticed again.

When I was running my first company that had a heavy emphasis on open source tools, the first place we looked was the buzz within the open source circles about who was contributing and adding real value.

3. Volunteer at startup events

This will be the fastest way to build relationships with organizers, speakers and journalists at the conference. If you serve well, doors will open. For one of my startups, we hired a key executive after I met him at an event he was organizing and we had built a relationship over the next few months. Interacting with him and watching him working through various aspects of the event management set up the stage positively for future interactions.

Volunteering is also an amazing opportunity to exercise influence with minimal authority. Winning here will give you a good practice for future work at a startup.

4. Showcase your thought leadership:

Earlier, you had to wait for an opportunity with a mega media outlet but not anymore. You can start a blog, answer questions on Quora or any similar community site, create compelling videos based on your expertise and upload them to YouTube, create presentations and share them on Slideshare etc.

Does this work?

You bet it does.

Case in Point: Here is one such story from my friend Sunil Kanderi, founder and CEO of Mokriya.

We needed to hire an authentic Product Designer who also loved to write. We had been talking to people for a few months, but hadn't found quite the right person.

One day one of our team members was checking Quora on a whim and stumbled on a post from Mills, and then got curious. After checking out his bio, he found this:


(except, picture it not saying that he works at Mokriya)

Top Writer 2013 was the first thing he noticed, then saw the number of folks following him: 3,213. On Quora, that's a significant community!

We started to take a closer look at his bio, and realized that Mills was the exact person we were looking for. He had written thoughtful/poignant pieces about Design & Compromise, iOS7, Path, Snapchat, as well as thoughtful discussions on philosophy, health, and even sandwiches in New Orleans!

When we reached out to him it also happened that he was also talking to Quora about a position with them. We are incredibly happy that he chose us over Quora.

Mokriya's entire team was built using non-conventional hiring techniques and some of the sources that we have hired our developers and designers apart from Quora is HackerNews, Technical message boards etc. We are actually writing an A-Z guide to hiring great developers, similar to the guide we have done on hiring great Mobile development teams.

As you can see, good employers are always noticing good work.

5. Build something awesome

It sounds like a cliched advice but it works. One approach is to keep knocking on doors endlessly and the other approach is to build something awesome and the right people will knock on your doors.

Want to take the next step here?

See if your idea has any merits. You can also field test them by launching crowdfunding campaigns on sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. You will also learn a lot about refining your idea and doing whatever it takes to get attention to your idea from others.

Startups love people who can get creative, hustle and product results with minimum resources. Whatever you can do to prove them that you are of THAT material, do it so that you can increase the odds of getting into a great startup.

6. Offer to work at a startup for free

Bring them deals, help them refine the product or introduce them to a strategic partner. Give first and reciprocation will bring you the necessary goodness.

This is your own version of the freemium model where you are offering a trial before they buy - only this time the product is YOU.

7. Lend a helping hand at Hackathons

Hackathons are events where programming teams come together and build something cool in a span of 2-3 days. If you are good at what you do, join hands with a team participating in an upcoming hackathon. You will not only test the limits of your skills but will also see your potential team members in action - a great way to put the team chemistry to test.

8. Start with a consulting arrangement

At my latest startup, WittyParrot we have hired more than half a dozen people after engaging them on a consulting basis for several months. This turned out to be good for both parties to determine if there was a mutual fit.

9. Hustle

Hustle seems to be reserved in general for salespeople. It works for everyone irrespective of role or position you are looking for. Hustle is really about gaining mindshare by being helpful and adding value wherever you see an opportunity and doing so proactively.