(Originally published at The Daily Muse on October 16, 2013.)
So, you want to ditch the corporate life and go work for a startup. Cool! But do you really understand what that would mean?
Steve Blank, one of the fathers of the Lean Startup revolution, defines a startup as “an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” What does that mean? Well, that the company either doesn’t have a working product, it has a working product that no one will buy, or it has a product that sells but can’t figure out how to market and sell the product profitably.
Translation: Working at a startup is nothing short of chaos. You’re trying to make something from nothing (at worst) or trying to fix all of the things that exist but that aren’t working (at best). Oh, and ideally before you run out of money.
Given all of this insanity that goes on, how do you prove to a hiring manager at a startup that you have what it takes? How will he or she know that you’re the kind of person who understands the highs as well as the lows and who can push through the dips that you’ll inevitably experience working at a startup?
It’s pretty simple, actually:
Start something first.
Starting something is hard work and pretty thankless most of the time. You’re building stuff, you’re trying stuff, and most of this stuff won’t work the first (or second, or third!) time. Talk about discouraging!
But that’s exactly the point. If you’ve gone through the process of starting something meaningful, you’ll know how it feels to try things, fail, bang your head against the wall, and try a few more things—that will probably also fail. (I know, maybe I should change my pen name to Debbie Downer.)
So, if you haven’t experienced the fear, stress, and frustration of starting something, then get to work! There is no better way to build up the mental toughness that’s needed to succeed at a startup.
Not sure where to start? I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas for you so you can focus less on the idea—and more on the getting started.
1. Start a Networking Group or Meetup
With platforms like Meetup, it’s easier than ever to organize a group around your area of interest, whether it’s cooking, coding, or college basketball. Of course, organizing is the easy part. Recruiting people, running meetings or events, and promoting the group is hard work. And you might fail. But that’s the whole point of this, isn’t it?
2. Start Blogging
Contrary to popular belief, blogging is hard work. It’s one thing to write a couple of posts a month on a blog using a vanilla theme. It’s another (and much more challenging) thing to post good content consistently, add custom features to your blog, perform search engine optimization, and systematically improve it so you attract more readers and followers. Think a startup would be impressed if you did all of those things? Yep.
3. Build an App
Got coding skills? If there are specific startups you’re targeting in your job search, see if they have an API that you could build a web or mobile app around. Then, show up to your interview with a working prototype, and expect to raise some eyebrows (in a good way)! If you don’t know how to code, don’t let that discourage you. There are lots of great sites like CodeAcademy and Treehouse where you can learn to code at your own pace.
4. Write an Ebook
Writing a good ebook requires commitment and lots of effort—and that’s before you even publish it, when you need to get down to business marketing and selling it. I’ve gone through this process myself, having written an ebook about careers in venture capital. If you think you might take this path, check out the things I wished I had known before I wrote my ebook so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
5. Teach a Class
Everyone is an expert at something. So, pick your subject and use a platform like Udemy or Skillshare to teach a class on that topic. It’s a challenge to create compelling content and recruit students for a class—trust me, because I’ve done it myself. Aside from helping you build the tenacity you’ll need at a startup, teaching a class is also a great networking opportunity and positions you as an authority within your area of expertise. Bonus points for sure.
Now, what are you going to start?