Today I’m excited to publish our interview with Comcast Ventures’ entrepreneur-in-residence, Daniel Gulati. Daniel recently led the company he co-founded, FashionStake, to an acquisition by Fab.com. In this post Daniel gives some pointers on how MBAs should approach their startup job search and interviews. He also shares some great tips for connecting with and through venture capitalists to find startup jobs. Enjoy!
What’s your advice for aspiring MBAs or newly minted MBAs who want to work at a startup?
First, understand that not all startups are equal. An early stage startup trying to find product-market fit is very different from a later stage startup that is growing rapidly. Both present unique opportunities and challenges. For example, in joining a seed stage company you’ll likely have more flexibility in how you do your job. In joining the larger company your role might be more well-defined, but narrower. Either way, you want to think about what kind of situation you’d prefer when you think about which startup’s you’ll target in your search.
Second, you need to have a level of passion for the startup that is “founder-like”. Put simply, what is it that makes you ignore job offers from established companies offering you more money? After pinpointing startups that fit the criteria you set out in the first step find the ones that tug at your heartstrings- maybe the company solves a long-standing personal pain point, maybe the team is amazing, or maybe you have deep insight into the particular problem the company is solving.
Finally, good startups have a bias for action. So communicate that you’re wired to act. Start by creating a 30 day (for entry level or mid level roles) or 90 day (if you’re interviewing for a senior role) for yourself. What are the goals you have for the first month on the job? What are the priority activities that will create value? How will you execute these activities in a resource-constrained environment? Talking this through with the company at the right stage in the interview process can really seal the deal.
What’s your favorite interview question for non-technical hires?
“So, what will you be doing while the engineers are building the product?”
I’ve learned more about how a person approaches teamwork, setting goals, prioritization, and their level of respect for others in their answer to this one question.
You have great relationships in the VC ecosystem. Do you have any tips about how people who want to work in startups can build relationships with VCs? Is this worthwhile for them if they’d like to work at a startup?
Absolutely. Because VCs are connected with so many companies they often hear of roles long before they are posted (and many are never posted). Moreover the founder-investor dynamic is such that a strong candidate recommendation from a VC can often go a long way with a founder.
The most valuable currency to a VC is proprietary deal flow. If you are able to surface high-potential companies you’re immediately valuable to that investor. Insights on a particular area of interest to the VC comes a close second as industry experts are often called upon in company diligence.
After doing either (or both) of these things you should make clear what type of role you’re looking for (don’t be a “I’m open to anything” person). Also, be selective in which (and how many) founders/hiring managers you ask the VC for help reaching. Any investor worth their salt will do their best to place you in your dream role.