Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

How to Get Hired by a Startup


As Allen Nance says, Tech is the New Hollywood, so naturally the tech startup scene is attracting lots of talented people. However, not everyone is a naturally born entrepreneur. Or even if they are, there are many who are self-aware enough to realize that working with/for a tech startup team is a wise  Act One of their tech career.     Today I will share some tips for anyone looking to join up with a tech startup.

Do something awesome on your own. The core team of a startup must all be entrepreneurial to some extent. The best way for someone to learn that you are entrepreneurial is to SEE you being entrepreneurial. Start a meetup. Throw parties.  Write a blog. Build things for non-profits. Build things for yourself. Just because you aren’t going to start a company single handedly doesn’t mean you can’t show off entrepreneurial traits.

Be patient. This is a boring one, but it’s so true with startups.  Timing growth is the trickiest aspect of building a great company.   Timing growth = when to hire.  That’s 90% of timing growth. If they hire too early, they burn too much cash. Hiring too late means missed opportunities. You need to be extremely painfully sensitive to the fact that startups need to act on their own schedule, not on yours. You need to be there waiting patiently, yet visible.  Forcing a timeline on a startup that ends up hiring you too early is ill advised.

Arrogance is nauseating.   Joining a startup team is like going on a long road trip together. You will be stuck with each other, and only each other for quite a while. An attitude of “I will help these poor saps finally get something done” is the worst attitude.  Even worse, I see this attitude most often from large company execs (EVP of Something and some Fortune 50 company) saying: “I ran a team of 1200 engineers building the worlds most sophisticated widgetApp and generating billions in revenue, so working with these two guys who have no revenue will be a cake walk.”  First, you are wrong.   Second, you won’t get hired by a startup that cares about the right things.   Humility is a much more valuable hiring asset than arrogance.

Stand on your own two feet financially. Let’s be honest, even if a startup is squeezing out enough revenue to pay you a salary, things could go south at any time. Even a funded startup can run out of money. Whether you make it known or not, I advise people to have their own financial runway just in case. If you need to skip salary one month or take some equity as a tradeoff for a lower salary, you have so much more freedom to do what is right for the company.  This freedom will give you the confidence to make sound decisions, no panic, and know that the worst case scenario is manageable.

Be involved in the community. Most startups recognize the value in solid relationships with other startups.  Not just founders and CEOs but sales guys, engineers, and marketing folks, all realize the value of community and relationships.  We all learn from each other. You can be much more valuable to  any startup if you are involved in the community as well.

Get connected. The first batch of customers for most startups typically comes from first and second degree relationships. In Stage 1, before a startup has reached a predictable repeating sales process, relationships are the top of the funnel. The more close relationships you have, particularly in the industry of your desired startup, the more value you will add out of the gate.

Working in a startup team is an awesome experience. It isn’t for everyone, but the ones who have been there understand how rewarding it can be in the end!

Now, if you’re looking for some startups to meet TODAY you are in luck: this Monday, the Atlanta Startup Village is at 7pm  get out there and shake some hands.



  • Jeff Hilimire says:

    Be patient is a huge one. Trying to work for a startup is, to your point, hit or miss depending on when the startup is ready to bring on someone with your skills. So you might have to “network” with them for months or a year before they are ready to pull the trigger.

    August 26, 2013 at 10:26 am

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