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How to get a job after your startup fails (jamesmaskell.co.uk)
125 points by jmaskell 1604 days ago | hide | past | web | 41 comments | favorite

5. Be clear about wanting to work for someone else

I think this particular point requires a bit more emphasis. I work for a large development company that requires me to source the top technical talent in the UK. A significant number of highly talented individuals are currently running their own start-ups which is understandable. Regardless of how brilliant a developer may be, that's not a guarantee of success and there will come a point where some of those startups fail and the founders will have to go find a 'regular job'.

The number one concern I have when I'm in discussions with a failed startup founder is how long they will stick with us before coming up with another brilliant idea and leaving us to go give it another shot.

I'm more likely to relax when a potential employee tells me that for the next couple of years they simply want to focus on a 'regular job' and maybe revisit the startup idea further down the line. Unfortunately the onus is almost entirely on the developer/start-up founder to place the employers mind at ease.

Steve, does it really matter? Even if a super-talented developer only stays with you for say 6-12 months surely they would deliver enough value in that time to not make it a huge concern? Also, let's flip the question on its head, if a company can't hold on to talented, entrepreneurial staff, is it indicative of a problem with the staff or with the company? What's the common denominator here?

What is better? Being fortunate enough to have a super smart person come on board, deliver a large amount of value, and then leave after a short period; or a less talented developer delivering lower quality work, at a lower velocity over a longer period?

I'm not sure talented but flighty people are a problem. Once they're in the door, it's the company's job to make sure their staff are happy and want to stay rather than moan about it.

6-12 months is plenty of time for a talented dev to have a big impact but I'd much rather hire them on a contract basis than a permanent basis in that circumstance.

Regardless of how adept a company is at retaining their best talent, you will never be able to compete with the appeal of running your own business and being your own boss.

That depends greatly on how deep the domain knowledge at your company is, and the level of investment you make in your employees. If it takes 3 months for a new hire to even start being mostly productive (more than 50% productive and less than 50% drain on mentors' time) and 6+ months before they're really productive (90+/10-%), then the equation is very different. If you invest $10,000/year in employee training and development, you don't really want people leaving after 6-12 months, etc...

yes a company should provide a good atmosphere and have employees who want to stay, but if you're coming in the door with the plan to get paid for 6 months and then quit and try another startup.... then you'd be a net loss for me to hire

I got this a lot. I think it was the cause of me not getting a few job offers. It's good to pre-empt the concern and be clear about wanting to take what you learnt on to another project.

What I found hardest was trying to explain that I also didn't want the stress and emotional ride of running a company for a while - without coming across as lazy or unmotivated.

Your last point is a great litmus test. Startups are stressful and emotional by nature, not to mention the ridiculous time commitment required.

Any company that fails to empathise with that is a company worth avoiding.

I found it helpful to say I wanted to spend at least 50% of my more time focusing on (programming/statistics/marketing/whatever the role was for), as compared to the very generalist role you have to play when owning your own business.

The emotional roller coaster is somewhat implicit in this, as some roles (e.g. customer-facing ones) are much more emotionally demanding than others.

Shouldn't just be a question for post-failure, but any sort of post-startup job. I've bounced back and forth between startups and bigCo my entire career. Or as I like to call it, moments of stark frenzied terror sandwiched between years of immense boredom.

One thing being in a small startup teaches is versatility, you can vastly expand the breadth of your skillset in an environment where you have to perform, even if some of your core skills languish a bit.

It's hard to get this across in a resume, but do put them down. Are you a coder than ended up spending a few hours a week on sales? Put it down. Marketing guy who got roped into server administration? Put it down.

When applying for a place, just simply reorder those various hats you wore in your old startup to suit the position you are applying for. Put the most relevant ones at the top of the list and the least relevant ones nearer the bottom.

It can definitely take some getting used to, going back to working for somebody else, you feel like you've lost lots of autonomy -- you might even have to take what feels like a couple steps back. But you can turn that on its head and use your broad skillset to quickly move up the ranks. You can do the job they hired you for and, oh yeah, you can do these other half dozen jobs competently, should you just be in charge of the whole group then since you know what everybody does and can reach across and down as needed?

also get used to befuddling even competent recruiters, at one startup I did almost every job in the place at one time or another, when looking for a new job it drove the recruiters crazy trying to place me

    also get used to befuddling even competent recruiters, at one startup I did almost every job in the place at one time or another, when looking for a new job it drove the recruiters crazy trying to place me
I had this problem - recruiters want a job title to pigeon hole you with. Their brains explode when they can't do this.

Yeah, they don't like it when your answer is "everything" to the question, "What did you do at _____?".

I've since changed it to "Everything, but tell me what you're looking for and I'll tell you about my experiences in that realm."

The best way to get almost any job is to knowing someone who already works there. It is old advice, but it is probably the best, it is easier to get your foot in the door when they already have someone to vouch for you. In other words, while you are working on that startup, dont forget to keep in touch with people and look for new friends in your field of interest, it will go a long way.

This advice works best when the person you know is directly responsible for running the company but gets less and less useful the further you get from that point.

Actually, having someone refer you internally will almost guarantee an interview. It's super useful.

You're both right if Rocky meant a range in usefulness from 'virtual lock' to 'a really good shot'

Yep. Even the person in your pocket at the absolute bottom of the rung is still someone in your pocket.

It heavily depends on the market. When my startup failed in 200x after popping of the dotcom bubble, the market for programmers was terrible and I was lucky to get a job at a state funded research institute.

Comparing this to today, where I get at least one offer a week, this was completely different.

Unfortunately I'm not a programmer (I can write enough code to be dangerous) - but more of an ops/product/sales type person instead, so it was a bit harder for me to find something.

I was also surprised at how long it took our developer to find a new role - he was extremely good, got first interviews quickly but it took companies a long time to make a decision. And we're in London, where those skills are in very high demand.

In Berlin we have two open ops positions ;-)

" but it took companies a long time to make a decision"

Yes, a lot of companies get that wrong, sometimes we do too. But we strive to have interviews as fast as possible and make decisions within a week, most often the same day as we do not consider it fair letting people wait on a decision (and it rarely gets better with time).

I'm in a similar situation to the blog author, but unfortunately for me i really struggled to find a job. In all fair ess, there were one or two pieces of advice in the post that i hadn't followed, so worth considering, but at the same time, there are very few start-ups where i live. And i'm unable to re-locate due to personal circumstances. I've had a little bit of success with freelance work and consulting however, and i feel that is the way forward for me.

Well done to the blog author for keeping his chin up and turning things around for himself so quickly.

In the process of shutting down my own company. I was bootstrapping a software startup with consulting gigs for the past 5 years. What killed it was my inability to expand, i.e. costly attempts to expand dried up my funds.

Though I learned a lot in running a company I feel I lost touch a bit on the programming side. My bread-and-butter was C/C++/ASM from about 1996-2008. De-rusting those skills now feels somehow liberating.

Just for fun and to hopefully one day avoid failing in a startup, I like to do post mortems. What I understood of Vinetrade is it struggled to make any income in a market which isn't comfortable right now trading online.

1. 2/12 Launches vinetrade

2. It manages wine portfolios

3. Raises funding

Getting funding so early is an indication that early profitability was probably not the main focus. Can give a false sense of success and idea validation.

4. People already trade wine but are not using an online service to do it yet

If this is your first startup, don't try and revolutionise an industry. Let someone else blow the money and make the mistakes first. Be a fast follower instead.

5. JM talks about building an MVP

Vinetrade should be your product? Another indication of not focusing on achieving profitability and a good revenue model and pricing structure early on.

6. 3/13 Closes vinetrade. Mentions it would have needed more funding.

Funding focus again an indication of lack of focus on early idea validation through profitability.

The struggle was more around scaling the business. We had income, and raised some seed funding on the back of it (in order to go full time on the project). We didn't take further investment because we knew we couldn't scale and provide the return that investors would have wanted.

While running Vinetrade, I learnt a lot about testing ideas and getting validation with minimal effort. The MVP post was about some of these lessons. If I was starting again, I'd get that validation much more quickly (but it would likely be the same early validation again).

But if it made enough money to keep yourself and the others in a job then why ever declare it as a failure? Unless it didn't make enough money?

It didn't make enough to support the team. There was an argument for running it as a side project / one man business, but that wasn't something that I wanted to do (and investors supported/advised when making that decision).

Cool, thanks for being open about it

I found that having a failed startup was good resume fodder to some extent. I was worth more in the marketplace after my failed startup, since I was perceived as having a more versatile skill set.

(It helped that my failed startup, while financially a failure, was cool and helped me demo a lot of advanced coding skills. :)

But I did run into a personal problem: after being a startupper, I found it very hard to transition back into working for someone else. In the end I had to sit down and be honest with myself: did I want to start another startup right now or did I just want a paycheck? I decided-- for the time being-- on the latter. So I had to swallow a bit of the radical self-direction I'd become accustomed to and decide to work for my employer since that's the deal.

I remember one particular job I interviewed for after leaving a start-up, and got asked various questions like "why did you fail?" and "working for that little money? That's stupid!"

I always think of them as the perfect example of "the interview is for you to learn about the company and the company to learn about you."

So, if someone calls you stupid to your face in an interview, that's probably not a good place to work - so I'm guessing that was slightly a hyperbolic recollection.

That said, both questions can be turned around to your advantage: The first, show that you have learned from your mistakes and that's you're cool and focused in the face of adversity. The second, that you're not just a day labourer, but you're focused on and motivated by the long haul: "yes, it was a long shot, but if we'd succeeded, we'd change the way the world thinks about X".

No, they really said "stupid." I must have blanched -- I've worked with difficult people and can tolerate a lot -- because he immediately tried to back away from it.

But, yeah, bad place to work. They went bankrupt and got delisted from the exchange about 2 years later. I will admit to feeling some schadenfreude at that.

It's definitely about having the right attitude. I was able to find a job that gives me a lot of autonomy, but also direction. At the moment, I quite enjoy letting someone else make the big decisions for me!

There's always a freedom/stability trade-off. One thing I discovered with my own startup attempt, and also by watching others, is that being completely out there on your own can be a real pain in the butt. You have to hustle, and you have to spend a lot of time doing things you don't enjoy doing that are done for you in a larger employer.

I might do the independent thing again, but I'm going to be a lot more careful and deliberate about it. I've decided that the "throw yourself to the wind and then buckle down" model romanticized in startup cowboy culture is questionable. This time I'm being a spreadsheet nazi, and with my own finances as well as the venture's, and I'm making much more pessimistic assumptions about uptake. I'm also going for something where I can bill customers directly, not something that requires B2B selling. The latter is really hard to do for a little guy. B2B could come later if the product is successful in the open product market.

For years, I felt that my failed startup was exactly that. A failure, and an embarrassment. Recently, I took to writing about it, hoping that simply having it written down would change my perspective. It did.

I was looking for a job change, and I used this chance to add that failure to my resume. It is a part of my history, whether or not I personally felt that it was a failure. Surprisingly, the instant I sent out my new resume to companies (I previously left it out due to shame), I was invited for interviews with MUCH greater success, and got a few decent offers. Of course, the companies I applied to were different from the ones previously, so I cannot say for sure that putting the startup had a better result, but it seems to be true.

Even during interviews, employees at these companies seemed to light up when discussing my experience with my failed startup. It has allowed me to value those 3 years much more, and no longer look back on it and hide it in shame.

Or you could get a $10/hr shit-job...

I think the best part-time jobs are fitness clubs. You're in the right environment to stay healthy and it's low stress. I used to work part-time at a racquet club and it was pretty awesome.

If you do go this route - just make sure when you apply to Target (you're more classy than Walmart right?) you put down "some college" instead of graduating with a CS degree. Also lie about previous work... all my prior programming jobs I put down as "Tech Support" jobs. Before I did that my applications weren't even considered.

I'm at the point now where either I succeed at a startup or I end up being a janitor at age 40. I couldn't stomach coding for anyone else but customers/users ever again.

Haha.. this cracked me up. Either you must be a genius with a thick skin or a "do or die" type entrepreneur.

I think I would be an amazing employee. After managing several people in a startup I can really empathize for what it takes to be a good manager.

I now believe that bad managers aren't bad because they are bad people, they just lack the right experience. I'm more inclined to give bad managers a break and good managers unwavering loyalty.

Of course I can be projecting, since I'm still running my own business.

I can identify with the "Networking" advice, as all of my past employment situations were the result of "someone who knows someone who knows me."

Avoiding HR is excellent advice. Find a company you want to work for and reach the person at the very top if you can.

I'm four months into a new corporate job after running into financial problems towards the end of last year. I didn't shut my business down, but things had gotten very dicey financially, making it necessary to get a regular pay check. I don't do much work on my own business these days (desktop, not web, and few support issues to handle), but I do have one product released late last year that is starting to show real promise.

The day job is driving me nuts. I thought at first that I could easily give it a year and a half, but now I'm counting the days to when the financial mess will have cleared up enough to resign - 2 more months. Maybe it's the company I'm working for (evil banking software), but more likely it's me. I have great difficulty working for someone else on one small part of a huge, 10 year old product.

Over the past 4 months I've drawn up a detailed plan for the new product that I released last year, and I'm sure it's going to work (heard that before). Roll on July 1st. I feel bad about the company I'm now working for, knowing that I'll be resigning soon and that I'm effectively using them, but not bad enough to stay.

2 months go by fast, you'll be back on your startup in no time. When you do, tell us about it! :)

A whole article about THIS?

How about:

1) Get a job.


Or, could it be, that a startup failure descends upon one with such shocking repercussions, that one forgets how to tend for himself?

Yeah, another shameless rant from me. It's just rather disappointing seeing such useful material on the front page, that is.

I found the article quite practical and useful.

It never hurts to put oneself in other person's shoes. It's called empathy, which I gather you may not have for people in this situation.

For someone that has shut down their business, emotionally it is very unsettling. Having to come to terms with the failure and at the same time looking at the next steps is not as simple as "Get a job". Granted, perhaps you would handle this situation without any issues but I would say for most of us, its good to read another person's experience (even if it seems "obvious").

The biggest issue I see is that as a failed startup founder, you have accept that there will be another day for another attempt (if that is still what one wants to do). You just have to reinforce the cavalry (ie. build up the finances, the mental resolve, etc.) and that could take time.

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