From startup founder to world class web company

Keith Cowing sold his last company to Sailthru and now is a product manager at a social networking company.  Keep reading to hear about what it was like moving to a bigger company after running his own company as well as what it takes for MBA students to position themselves to enter the startup world.  –John

What was your job search process like after selling Seamless Receipts?  What about the process surprised you?

Every job search process is a very personal matter and highly depends on your circumstances, timing, location, desires, etc. Luck also plays a pretty big role sometimes. But what honestly surprised me the most was how easy it was.

Going through the process of building a company played a huge role in a few ways. For one, becoming an entrepreneur is quite an experience in personal development and self-awareness. I have always had specific interests, but after Seamless Receipts I had a much clearer view of what I exactly wanted to do with my career, what excited me, what didn’t, what I was good at, what I wasn’t good at, and what kind of company I wanted to be a part of. So my job search process was very focused and that helps a lot. Also, running a startup teaches you how to be somewhat shameless in selling yourself – which is what ultimately lands you a great job.

For me, I wanted to become a product manager at a world-class web company. What I’d been doing for the past two years was very very similar. I was pulling together teams of different skills and personalities, studying a market, obsessing over the user experience, building and shipping product, communicating the value prop, and helping to market and sell the end result. Transferring what I did as an entrepreneur into my job was natural. Showing that I could be gritty and fight through daunting challenges probably helped as welI.

I hope to be much more successful in my next venture (some day off in the future) – but I’ve demonstrated that I can make it through the entire process and that drastically changed the way hiring managers looked at me.

What are some things MBA students should know about trying to crack into the startup world?

I would focus on one thing – show that you’re a man or woman of action. My biggest gripe with business school (as somebody with an MBA) is that it tends to generate too much talk and not enough action. If you want to be a founder, then you better be building things or marketing things in your spare time (build a web app, start a blog, write an eBook and try to sell it, etc.).

The results aren’t even important at the beginning, it’s the learning and the fact that you now have interesting projects to discuss that show people you DO things. If you’re not a founder, then you need to be able to build something or sell something. If you can’t do one of those two, what would you actually do to move a startup company forward?  Startups don’t need more chefs who don’t cook. The only true way to demonstrate that you’re the right fit is by showing, not telling.

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