Last month, I left my full time job at a local startup (we’re still on good terms, and I still consult with them) to focus on building product, as well as consulting where it makes sense. Almost instantly, I started getting multiple inquiries from companies regarding new opportunities. Almost unanimously, I’ve politely and respectfully declined these offers; I’m still chatting with the others. The last several years have been a fun time working at startups, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Startups have a way of compressing several years worth of experience into a year or less. It’s both awesome and exhausting. I’m also a bit burned out on the startup scene, and want to start creating something for myself. While building other peoples’ dreams is great, for someone who likes to create and move fast, it also leaves one a bit hungry for more.
While I won’t completely rule out joining a company full time, I’ve set some benchmarks for whether a company will be a good fit.
- Is the company capable of executing its vision?
- Do I care about the problem the company is solving?
- Will I work with people smarter than me?
If I can’t answer all three of these questions with an emphatic ‘yes’, then it’s a no-go. Plain and simple. Most companies don’t make the cut for a variety of reasons. Let me unpack these points.
1. Is the company capable of executing its vision?
Vision is where a company chooses to go. Execution is what it does to get there. From my experience, execution comes down to (in the words of Marcus Lemonis) people, product, and process. I’ve worked with both highly functioning teams and total shitshows, with both top notch product and utter vaporware, and both within tight frameworks of execution and complete anarchy. The former succeeded; the latter are either dead or zombie companies.
As I always tell people, when you watch enough horror movies, you know to avoid the creepy house on the hill. Going forward, I’m only choosing to get a positive ROI on my invested time and energy with a company that can execute its vision. This obviously helps the company as well, since I’m fully vested and committed to executing its vision.
2. Do I care about the problem the company is solving?
When I work for a company, I’m paid to care about their problems. The problem that needs to be solved should be compelling enough that I’m willing to invest significant time and energy to help execute on a solution. There’s tremendous opportunity cost and irrecoverable time if its misallocated on apathy. Sadly, this happens all too often. And it hurts the company too. How are apathetic employees a positive thing? My litmus test is if I genuinely believe that I can be excited to work on this problem two years from now. If so, it’s a problem I think is worth trying to solve.
3. Will I work with people smarter than me?
Iron sharpens iron. I hate being the smartest person in the room; I prefer being the dumber person who wants to actively learn. Learning from people smarter than myself is an absolute honor, and I actively seek out these situations whenever available. That’s why I read a ton, attend meetups, train at the gym with people more athletic than me, and listen to talks from people much smarter or accomplished than me. It’s the only way to keep growing. If you’re not growing and improving, then you’re getting worse. A job is an investment in your growth; it’s 8+ hours a day where you can either push yourself and those around you, or time spent regressing. Avoid the latter, embrace the former.
More than a paycheck
For me, a job is about more than just a paycheck. It’s about wisely using one’s time and truly adding value to one’s employer, as well as oneself. Time is precious and irreplaceable. Energy is an exchanged medium that should be used positively. I choose to use time and energy wisely, working on problems I care about, with people that will push me (and who I will hopefully push as well). If you think your company fits these criteria, I’d love to chat with you.