We’ve got start-up on the brain. The Web 2.0 Expo’s going on in San Francisco this week, The Twitter whale’s working overtime, and company names are becoming verbs, adverbs and – dare we hope – conjunctions en masse.
Many of you have written in and told us you’d like to join a start-up, and we find it hard to disagree, especially after talking to Azeem.
Azeem was kind enough to offer up his experience doing BizDev for a mobile app analytics start-up, and guess what? He was a investment banker before, for those of you looking to transition out.
The Start-up Life at Pinch Media in New York
What’s Pinch Media?
Pinch Media is a smartphone application analytics company, focused on providing app publishers with relevant metrics in gauging usage of their applications. TThe company was founded on April 1, 2008 (yesterday was our one year anniversary!) by Greg Yardley (CEO) and Jesse Rohland (Lead Developer).” I came on board about 6 months ago, as the first business/non-technical hire. We are currently a team of 6 full-time (1 CEO, 1 lead developer, 3 developers, and myself in BD – and we are backed by Union Square Ventures and First Round Capital.
Describe a day in your life doing BizDev there.
Every day at Pinch is different, and I’m usually doing a variety of things at any given time. A large part of my job involves connecting with new strategic partners and potential users, as well as brainstorming opportunities with companies/developers that are currently using our service, but are looking for more. This also entails keeping up on developments in our space (smartphone applications), learning from developers and companies that are doing interesting things, and gauging strategies that might make sense for us to employ. Because the mobile app space is so new (it was really just born in its present form this past year, with the iPhone app-store), there’s always new things to learn. Being at the nexus of this space and helping others learn through us has definitely been fun, and is a constant part of my job.
Needs always change, and the most rewarding part of being at a startup is wearing multiple hats. During fundraising, I spent a large part of my time on strategy and modeling. Right now, I am focusing alot more on operational execution. Evangelization is always a part of the job as well; I have given talks at a few mobile conferences/meetups within the past few months. Altogether, I do not think I could have gotten this rich of an experience anywhere other than at a startup; it’s really great to help build all of these various facets of a company, from the absolute ground up, and I have had a complete blast doing it so far.
How’d you find your job?
I was particularly interested in either pursuing venture capital, or business development and/or strategy at a VC-backed startup. I reached out directly to a number of companies in the New York area, specifically those backed by some of the more prominent east coast VCs (like Union Square Ventures, in this case). I met the team at Pinch, felt positively about the opportunity; the team felt likewise, and here I am now.
The one important thing I realized in pursuing a business role at a startup (and at seed-stage VCs for that matter), is that the process can be an “entrepreneurial” one, in and of itself. Pinch Media did not have an actual position in place; I reached out, and there was a mutual fit, so I was brought on board. This process is similar to that of many others I know, who currently work at startups.
What’s the transition from banking to a start-up been like? What advice do you have for those looking to make a similar transition?
I had been looking to ultimately enter a bd/strategy role at a startup ever since I started my career in investment banking (I was at Houlihan Lokey before transitioning into my current position). I have worked mostly on M&A transactions and some private/venture-stage financings, in the tech and interactive media space; so, having an intimate familiarity with digital/interactive media and tech companies via the deals I have done certainly helped.
Nonetheless, at first I was a little worried that I was ill-prepared for the type of position I wanted; most friends of mine in similar roles come from a management consulting background. However, I found that my skill sets from banking were definitely transferable: systematic way of analyzing companies, modeling during fundraising, and even softer skills like tracking deal pipelines (did not realize how important this was until this job), being able to manage a general deal process etc etc.
The biggest difference from finance is learning to work in a completely unstructured environment. If you are the entrepreneurial type, this is the perfect environment to thrive in; however, coming from investment banking, it still takes some time to get rid of your “analyst/associate” mindset. Of course, this depends on the size of the startup in question; but on the whole, you have alot more room for exploration and intellectual curiosity: very different environment from investment banking. And in fact, at a startup, exploration and intellectual curiousity are absolute necessities, given the job.
In terms of finding a job like this, to reiterate, the biggest advice I have is to approach the process in an entrepreneurial fashion; do not rely on headhunters, etc., but instead, directly reach out to startups (and their VCs, as they keep a pulse on roles that need to be filled for portfolio companies) regardless of whether they have positions listed. And of course, apply to roles you find on Doostang, Startuply, and other sites you come across.
Has your experience impacted your career plans? How?
It definitely has; I have a much clearer picture of what I like and dislike about tech entrepreneurship, and this has made me alot smarter about my options going forward. The good thing about working for a startup is having the option to learn on someone else’s account, so to speak; if/when I decide to found a company, I’ll have the professional maturity of having essentially gone through it once before, which is clearly a positive.
Venture capital and/or growth private equity are strong and very natural career directions as well; having first-hand operational experience will tremendously help in pursuing roles in either of these fields (versus only having advisory experience).
Why do you love your start-up job? We want to know!
Finding a start-up job on Doostang
Start-up job listings have found a natural home on Doostang. We’re a Silicon Valley startup ourselves, and we have a strong track record placing venture capitalists who often help their portfolio companies recruit through Doostang.
Even as we type, there are a bunch of cool opportunities out there – doing BD (like Azeem!) in New York for early stage advertising start-up or in London for a green start-up, Product management in LA for a car-pricing information service, even online marketing for Doostang.
Beyond listings, don’t forget Azeem’s point about being entrepreneurial in your search itself. Start-ups change – quickly – and most don’t have in-house recruiters. What does this mean for you? That often creating the opportunity in a start-up is the name of the game. If you know a company you want to work for, search for people who work there. If you don’t, check out your inside connections on our start-up listings and ask for advice. Network, be hungry, foolish, network. Repeat.
Is your start-up hiring? Post your opening on a start-up friendly budget (free), and reach the best of the best.
Whatever you do, just don’t make a grown man cry. 10 bucks to the first person to get that reference.