For the first time in months, I couldn’t wait to get to the office. I was running 30min late, but couldn’t care less. I walked in, went straight to the CEO and told him we need to talk. I kept it short and straight to the point. “I’m quitting”
For months I’ve had that nasty feeling of dissatisfaction. It doesn’t scream at you, it just slowly sits in the back of your mind. It’s not horrible so you don’t quit. It’s just kind of okay.
I spontaneously quit after watching this video. I don’t recommend it. I made up my mind the night before and went for it. No real plan. No jobs lined up. In hindsight, it was the best career decision I’ve made.
Now, I consider myself the luckiest man on earth. I love my job. I work remotely full-time. In the last 3 months I’ve went skydiving in Lithuania, raced motorcycles on a beach in Latvia, climbed Mount Olympus in Greece after island hopping with a gorgeous girl I just met, bungee-jumped in Copenhagen, took my sister to New York City for a week…all while our company’s revenue grew 30% – 50% each month.
I’m currently sitting on a train, considering if I should spend the next month in Budapest or Bali. I wish everybody could experience the incredible freedom. The company I work for has an amazing product that people love. The product is making people’s lives better and we get 50 5-star reviews a day. Couple of them saying that we have literarily changed their life. The rewarding feeling of knowing you’re making the world a tiny bit better is awesome. In this post, I will tell you step-by-step how you can get the same job (and lifestyle) as I have.
Marketing is one of those fields that don’t require experience. Anything I’m doing at the company can be learned in a matter of weeks or months. I learned most of it on the job. Being world-class is difficult, but getting started is easy.
Especially startups tend to not care about your experience or background. The trick is finding a startup that is stable enough to survive, but young enough where you can be one of the first 10 employees. You’re likely to get equity, have lots of responsibility which will make you learn fast and it’s fun.
Marketing is a broad term and depending on the kind of startup, it will more likely be focused on branding (visual, social presence, etc) and user acquisition. The purpose of marketing in a startup is to bring new users / buyers.
Your lack of experience will be an advantage. The tools we’re using in marketing are evolving so fast that experience is irrelevant. The strategies are also constantly changing. What worked on Instagram 12 months ago doesn’t’ work anymore.
You don’t have the experience, but you have a lot to offer to a potential company. Startups are looking for:
- People that are willing and excited to learn fast. Things in startups are changing fast. Adaptability is key. You’re likely to be doing something new every month. You need to be able to figure shit out quickly.
- People that don’t need directions. The CEO is busy. The CTO is busy. Everybody is busy and they don’t want more work by having to train you. A lot of times they don’t even know what you should be doing. That’s why they hired you. There are no manuals and no rules. Figure shit out quickly and on your own.
- People that start things. Nobody is going to tell you what to do, so you need to be the one figuring out what to do and constantly trying to improve. You need to be constantly looking for new ways to find more users and spend less money doing it. Figure shit out quickly, on your own and start new things.
- People that are not assholes. This one should go without saying but somehow it’s not common knowledge. The founders will spend a lot of time with you. They don’t just want a slave. They want a friend. Somebody they can share inappropriate jokes with over a beer. Figure shit out quickly, on your own, start things and don’t be an asshole.
You want to find a startup that has found Product-Market fit. This common startup term refers to having a product that your market loves. It means the company is growing organically. People are talking about the company to their friends. Word of mouth is strong. This means the company is either breaking even or has a clear plan to reach profitability. It is not in Search Mode anymore, the company has entered the Growth Stage.
This is exactly when you want to join for a couple of reasons
- At this point the company has either raised capital or is currently raising to scale faster. Most of this money will be used to hire new employees and marketing. In this stage, you get paid better money. Probably not as much as you would in a bigger company, but that’s the tax you pay for joining a fun startup. You’ll also have a bigger marketing budget which is always more fun.
- You might also be the first marketing-hire. If you’re good and the company does well, you’ll start building your own marketing team. Probably the quickest path to management.
- Life at a startup in the Growth Stage is much more fun as well. It’s less stressful because the CEO is not counting days until the company runs out of money. The overall vibe is positive. People don’t have to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Finding a Product-Market fit is the hardest thing a startup has to do. Most fail at this and die as a result. If you join a company post P-M fit, the company is more likely to survive and you’re likely to keep your job. Joining a startup that goes on be successful will propel your career like nothing else. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get equity which will be worth enough money in a few years where you don’t need a career anymore…but the odds of this are like winning a lottery so it shouldn’t be your objective.
Okay, you understand the concept of a Growth startup. But how do you find such a company in the real world?
Okay, you understand the concept of a Growth startup. But how do you find such company in the real world?
How to find that unicorn
Unicorns are startups valued at a billion dollars. Every founder wants to build a unicorn. It’s nearly impossible to spot a unicorn while it’s just a tiny new startup, but it’s very possible to find companies that have eliminated most of the early-stage risks. Let’s find you that future unicorn, shall we. The following are my suggestions on WHERE to find exciting companies that are worthy of your time.
Method 1: App Store ranking
This is how I got my current job – the best job ever. (This method is limited to app companies)
App Store ranking in a given country tells you how many users are downloading an app. There is overall ranking and category rankings (Health & Fitness, Productivity, Lifestyle, etc.) There are three types of ranking – Top Free Apps, Top Paid Apps, and Top Grossing Apps. Many of the paid apps are lifestyle businesses meaning they have 1 – 2 people behind them and they are not necessarily trying to build a big business and scale.
You want to look at companies in the Free category. Most top apps in the Free category are running a subscription-based business model. On average, subscription apps make more money than one-time purchase (Paid) apps so they are more likely to build a big business.
I use a tool called SensorTower. It shows the ranking and an estimate of how much money each app made last month. You could check out a few apps and compare their revenue. As an example, I looked at Fitness Workout by GetFit. SensorTower shows you their ratings, comments, ads, installs and revenue from last month, etc.
You can also track several apps and watch their growth over time. You obviously want to find a company that is small but growing. Below is the daily ranking for Fitness Workout. That’s pretty good growth. Any company that makes it to the top 10 in Health & Fitness is onto something exciting. I would consider contacting this company.
I would recommend going through the app categories that interest you and making a list of all companies that seem to have potential. Health & Fitness (both physical and mental) is my passion. I spend most of my free time exercising or improving my mind, that’s why I wanted to find a company in this category. In the next section, I’ll tell you how to approach the company and find out if it has potential.
Method 2: Accelerator approved
Startup accelerators are like mini-universities, at least the good ones. The three most popular (and arguably best) accelerators are YCombinator, 500 Startups and TechStars. In a normal accelerator program, the company receives a small investment, around $100k in exchange for small stake in the company. The accelerators help companies grow with a 3-month program. The companies get advice, mentors, network, etc.
It’s a good idea to contact companies that have recently been through one of these accelerator programs because:
- They have likely raised another round of capital. Most companies that graduate from these programs take another round of investments. This time, the sums are bigger than the initial $100k
- They are likely growing and need help
- Many of these companies have only engineers as founders so they need help with marketing
- and the most important reason why this is a good method: these companies have been chosen by the accelerators. That means they have something special. Somehow, they are better than the rest of the companies that didn’t get in. YCombinator, for example, has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard! It’s a big deal to get the YCombinator stamp of approval. Yes, many companies still don’t make it even after participating in one of these programs, but they are significantly more likely to survive than the average startups.
Famous YC graduates include Airbnb, Dropbox, Twitch, Instacart, Doordash, etc. So how do you find these companies? You want to find recent graduates. The ones that have graduated from the most recent batch.
TechStars (scroll to the bottom)
I have participated in accelerators as a co-founder of a company. I’ve also landed several interviews and my last job using this method, so I’ve been on both sides of the table.
Method 3: Recently in the press
I never got a job using this method, but I’ve heard others have had success. It’s quite simple. You can read tech / startup news websites and reach out to companies that are mentioned. Again you want to find a company that is small and just starting out. Don’t bother contacting big players, they already have huge teams and organizations that are not ideal for your situation.
The most popular startup news site is TechCrunch. You could probably find others in your specific area of interest.
How to reach out and apply
Hopefully, by now you have a solid list of companies that:
- are interesting to you personally
- have already reached Product-Market fit
- are small enough where you’ll be one of the first 10 employees and they don’t have an entire marketing team yet
How do you approach such a company? Most companies will have an email address on their website. If you can find an email directly to the CEO, even better. Alternatively, you can find the CEO on LinkedIn and write them a direct message.
First, you should find out everything you possibly can about that company. Use the product. Read every article you can find. Check out competing companies in a similar space. Read all reviews from users. Yes, this takes time, but you want to make sure you know the company as much as possible. This is not a mass email you send to 20 companies. Every CEO gets unsolicited mass emails from vendors, suppliers, agencies, etc. every single day. The CEO will sniff out any mass email from the first paragraph and will hit delete. Take your time at this stage. It’s okay if it takes days.
After you are familiar with the company, write down a couple of ideas for improvement. Since these early-stage companies don’t have full teams yet, they are probably not taking advantage of all the low-hanging fruits in the marketing world. Here are a couple of ideas you could check:
- Do they have a referral system built-in the product?
- Are they running paid ads on relevant channels like Instagram Ads or Snap for example?
- Are they producing content (blog posts, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, etc.)
- Do they have good branding – logo, colors, website, etc.
- Are they taking advantage of localization and translating the product into different languages?
- Are they using email marketing and creating email funnels?
- Are they taking advantage of analytics like Google Analytics or Amplitude to understand their users?
Once you find the low-hanging fruit you could implement, tell them. Here’s the first email I wrote to my current company. It was simple, straight to the point.
I’m using (product name) and I have to say it’s pretty addictive.
I wanted to share it with others but see you don’t have any referral system built it. You might want to do that, to power growth…just an idea.
Let me know if u need some help with it. I’m building a referral system for (my current company) now. I’m working with tech growth in CPH
Notice what I didn’t do! I did not attach a CV. I didn’t write a letter. I didn’t compose an elaborate sales pitch that starts with “To whom it may concern“. I just expressed interest in the company and offered to help. That’s all it takes. The purpose of this email is to start a conversation. Your objective is to get a reply. Make it easy for the CEO to read.
The CEO called me the next day. We spoke for a few days, exchanging ideas about startups, marketing and philosophy. He agreed to hire me for a month as a consultant. The referral system (which I proposed in the email) wasn’t the best use for that particular company. We agreed to work on email marketing instead. I implemented a new email funnel, which is something I’ve never done before, but it’s fairly easy to learn. After my consulting month was over, I joined the company full time as the first employee. That was a year ago, we’re still a very small team, but growing like crazy. I’ve never been happier.
How to screen and qualify companies
Founders are not bad people. They don’t want to lie. They’re just delusional. Every founder thinks their idea is the next big thing. They will bend truths to convince themselves and everyone around them. So the first thing you want to do is to verify that they have found P-M fit. Here are some things you can ask the CEO / founders to figure out if they have reached P-M fit and are likely to survive long-term:
- How do you know you have reached Product-Market fit?
- What’s your Day 7 retention? Day 30 retention? Find out the retention of similar companies to compare.
- What is the Life Time Value of your customers and what is the Customer Acquisition Cost? If LTV is lower than CAC, then the company has a problem as it is more expensive to acquire a customer than what the company gets from that customer. If LTV is lower then CAC, then the company better have a good reason why)
- What’s your biggest challenge in the next 3, 6, 12 months?
- What is your monthly revenue growth in the last 6 months? If the company is not getting revenue, why not? If no revenue, what is your user growth?
- Have you taken any investments? If yes, how much runway do you have? Runway is a term used to identify how many months the company has before they run out of money. This assumes they’re not profitable. Runway of 12 months means the company can operate for another 12 months before it runs out of cash.
This should give you an idea of how successful the company is going to be. Startups are risky. Even the most exciting companies can fail. Using this approach, you’re more likely to find a company that will last.
Now you know how to identify a company that is likely to succeed. You know where to find these rare companies and what to tell them. I’ve been both a CEO / Founder and employee. I’ve hired people and got hired, using this approach. It works for me and has worked for so many of my friends. Now get out there and get yourself an awesome job because life is too short to hate your 8-hours of the day.
I’d love to hear from you. If this worked for you, please share the success with me and others. If it didn’t, write me and tell me why you think it didn’t work.