“How Do I Get Involved in a Startup Company?”

get involved in startupTwo years ago, I never really knew what a ‘startup company’ was. Being from a small town in northern Connecticut, all I knew about were the large insurance corporations and chain restaurants and clothing stores. (Truth be told, it wasn’t surprising I didn’t know of any startups, as there are not that many in Connecticut). As of today, I’ve been working for a startup, Backupify, for 14 months. Did I ever see this coming? Absolutely not. Am I glad I’m here? Absolutely!

Many friends have approached me asking the exact question proposed in the title of this blog post. “So, how do I get a job at a start up company?” Truth be told, it is tough if you don’t know the right people. It took me a few months to carefully network and feel out the startup culture.

When people tell you it’s all about who you know, they are right. When a small company like a startup is looking to hire, they are very reliant on referrals and recommendations of good hires as they cannot risk making a wrongful hire.

In short, below I’ve answered the most common questions I’ve been asked regarding getting into a startup:

How do you know who to contact?

First, determine what it is you’re looking to do. If you’re into marketing like I am, start contacting marketing professionals in the area (either via email or Twitter) to make an initial connection. Thankfully, through college, I received a marketing scholarship from an organization based around Boston, so those were the first people I went to when I was looking for a job.

Essentially, network creatively. Find out what topic of interest you want to start a career in and find others who are doing just that. Get their attention either by chatting on Twitter, sending an email or attending an event and making a personal introduction. I was able to meet many very successful marketers around the Boston area by doing just that. After you’ve made your first successful networking contact, they can surely help you branch off and meet others.

How do you know what events to attend?

It’s always good to make a personal connection. If you can attend the events that admirable professionals in your industry are attending, that is a great start. You can also get recommendations about events and conferences from your first few contacts. I’ve found that some networking events are more valuable than others. Here in Boston, there are events where it is just a social gathering involving small talk and beer. Then there are conferences with learning sessions and breakout networking times. I value both for different reasons. I started going to both when I began crafting my way into the Boston startup scene. I found that the social ‘drink-ups’ as they’re called were great to have casual conversations and get your name known. You may not learn too much, but there sure are a lot of people to meet. That’s actually how I got involved being a writer for BostInnovation.

Conferences are a great way to learn and get your name out there. Conferences tend to be larger, so it’s always important to find out who is going and make a point to meet them there.

How do you know when to take a chance?

Working for a startup does involve some risk. Unlike an established brand or corporation, startups are small and often bootstrap or VC funded. This meaning that there is a limited cash runway and hard work involved to push through the competition and challenges to make it to the top. Before I accepted my job offer with Backupify, our CEO Rob May made a point to explain to me exactly what taking a job at a startup meant. It meant there was risk of failure, hard times among the good times, and long hours. Thankfully, I was up for all of that – but many are not.

I’ve spoken with many colleagues who started their career off at a standard corporation, being a number among thousands of other employees, and just living day-by-day, not enjoying their job. I’m always interested to hear how one day they snap and realize they want to enjoy their career and find a company and a job that is truly rewarding. Many times, landing a position at a startup company can be just that opportunity with exposure to almost every activity in the company including being involved with executive decisions, being challenged like never before, and having a say in the direction of the company.

I’m thrilled I took the leap into the startup world as my first career job. It has been the most rewarding, creative and challenging job I could have ever wanted.

What other questions do you have in regards to learning about startup culture? If you made the move from a ‘regular’ job to a startup, what was your experience like? I’d love to hear from you!