How to get work at tiny tech startups without knowing a friend-of-a-friend of the founder
January 5, 2007 10:15 PM   Subscribe

In my 8 remaining months before I start at Stanford, I'd like to find a job at a small (1-10 people) tech startup in the Bay Area, preferably Web-related. I have previous experience at this type of company as a Web developer, and I have useful skills. The problem: I don't have a network of people to help me find such a job, and these positions seem to be given to friends-of-friends(-of-friends) of the current employees.

About me: I deferred at Stanford for a year after graduating from high school. Finding a place to live will not be a big problem (I'll arrive in a few weeks), and I have enough savings to scrape by on the kind of salary I should expect. I have lots of friends in the area, but none who are in the tech business circles.

I'm looking for the kind of small Web startup where I could put in long hours doing all varieties of work (though probably mainly programming) and have significant influence from the beginning.

I have been sending my resume to startups that look interesting, but those that are open to accepting resumes are generally already VC-funded and bigger than I'd like. Startups of the size I'm seeking tend to either be operating in "stealth" or give very little information about their location/purpose/size--all of which makes them nearly impossible to find.

So, how can I find and contact these kinds of startups?

Note: After I've found these startups, convincing them I'm worthy is another problem entirely--but for now, I am focusing on just finding them. Thanks for your help!
posted by jbb7 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One idea -- hang out at coffee shops, etc, in Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino.... not quite sure which ones). Maybe you could strike up a conversation with people currently making business plans, or working on their greatest idea that they need a partner for, etc. (That doesn't help you find them from afar, though, so you'd have to get a job, like, busing tables at night until you found these people.)
posted by salvia at 11:56 PM on January 5, 2007

You need to start socializing with the people you'd like to work with. Attend the events they hold (they're damn near ubiquitous, mostly free, and fairly productive if you can stomach the hype) and interact with people by emailing them, commenting on their blogs, and in general paying attention to what they do.

The coffee shop thing isn't likely to be that productive -- someone tapping away on their laptop with their iPod headphones on is going to be awfully tough to approach about a job. You may find some success with something like LinkedIn, but again, this is generally of more use with relationships that you've already established.

You can also often contact a company to attend it as a visitor. Even if you only do so with larger companies, you can hear about which smaller companies they think are interesting or are partnering with.

The bottom line? Be of use to the community you'd like to be part of. Provide them with information or connections or services that they need, and make sure to get your contact information into the conversation prominently, and pretty soon you'll be in the loop for the next project that's about to take off. Oh, and have plenty of healthy skepticism.

Feel free to get in touch with me via email if you want more info.
posted by anildash at 12:27 AM on January 6, 2007

Lots of Silicon Valley folk are fond of Craigslist, so try posting something on there and seeing what you get. Just be very clear about your situation -- I imagine a short-term/no commitment web developer would be ideal for some company out there.
posted by spiderskull at 1:53 AM on January 6, 2007

(I'm the original poster.) Thanks, everyone, for the advice. Just to clarify something related to what spiderskull said: I'm not looking for a short-term or no-commitment job. I'm not doing this for the money, either. I'm doing this because I find this work interesting, and as long as it works out, I would happily continue at the same company even after I start college.
posted by jbb7 at 2:25 AM on January 6, 2007

Anil is spot on; the events and meetups and the "lunch 2.0" events are all great ways of meeting people with ideas and just-born startups.

Also, just because you're not starting classes til next Fall doesn't mean you can't drop by campus; I'm a junior and you can find my email in my profile if you'd like to drop by and meet up, and I can try and point you in some interesting directions.
posted by mikeyk at 5:57 AM on January 6, 2007

jbb7, I don't think I can top Anil's comment. One thing you might consider: are there certain areas you're particularly interested in? I know a couple of startups that are pretty small, and I'm sure they'd love to have another person in-house. E-mail me (profile) if you'd like to chat further about it or use my brain for anything. I love connecting people, and you sound like good people. I might not be able to help, but I'd be more than happy to try.

Keep in mind, unless you're bringing something pretty special to the table, most startups would probably be seeing your engagement more as an intern than as a full-on employee, but if the stint this summer works out, it could extend further. You'd need to show that you're both capable of taking direction (when they need to give you things to do) and that you're especially capable of working independently, seeing opportunities, and making progress on them.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:40 AM on January 6, 2007

In case you don't e-mail me, I'll just put one idea here:
Wesabe is a startup in the Bay area, working with personal finance. The guys there seem like they're universally nice. Their CEO, Jason, mans the phones seven days a week, from 12 to 4 PST. You could give him a call and pitch him on your idea. I'm sure that if he doesn't have a space for you, he might know someone who does. Their number is (800) 511-8544. Tell him Charlie, from PearBudget, sent you, and say hi for me.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:32 AM on January 6, 2007

First, as a fairly nice employee of Wesabe: hey Charlie! and jbb7, you can send us a resume at marc at-sign wesabe period com (Marc is my boss). I don't know if we're hiring right now, but we're always interested in hearing from people who are excited about what we're doing. Talking to Jason is much advised as well.

Ok, now on to the advice. I was in your situation, only post-college, and what really did it for me was starting a technical blog. I decided to make a blog and try to limit it to things which would showcase my stupendous skills -- analysis of existing products, GPL/MIT-licensed plugins, code snippets, etc. I was learning a relatively niche technology (Ruby On Rails, back when the buzz was just beginning), so there was a lot of space for Stupid Programming Tricks. Once you solve a few interesting problems for people, they add you to the RSS reader, which is where you want to be. Be sure to mention your geographic location in your blog -- if people see you're both interesting and local, they'll contact you.

If you're not already participating in an open source project, get to it! Your ideal situation is a employee of a small startup thinking about how they're going to X, googling "~howto X", finding your blog, seeing that you're down the block, and thinking "it sure would be cool to have this person working on our X." I mean, I got a whole grip of job interviews based solely on an article about how to deploy a Rails app with Mongrel/Apache 2.2 and a few plugins.

Also, people tend to place a lot of stock in how well you can explain complicated ideas in writing. A huge component of software development is communicating with other people, so make sure your blog posts sparkle (or at a very minimum, don't have massive spelling/grammar errors).

All the networking tips you're getting here are gold (not to mention the networking you're actually doing here), but also start to think about cultivating your professional reputation as a fun, curious, problem-solver.

Good luck!
posted by Coda at 1:33 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

See what I'm talking about? Nice guys. The lot of 'em.

Anyway, one more thing to think about trying is to look at the various job boards ... specifically (and in this order) ...
  1. GigaOm
  2. TechCrunch
  3. Authentic Jobs
  4. 37signals' Job Board
The logic should be pretty clear: These are companies who have expressed a need, are in the general professional area you're interested in (moreso for the first two than the second two), and are in the right geographic location (again, first two yes; second two ... not as much). Their needs might not exactly line up with what you can offer, but they're at least in "open to new applicants" mode.

I didn't say it before, but your idea of jumping into the startup world at this point is really fantastic, and I really hope you're able to find something. You know all this, but you couldn't have a better time in your life to do something risky (that is, professionally risky) like work for a startup. I really hope you can find something out there.

And best of luck with college. You'll love it.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:48 PM on January 6, 2007

Thanks a ton to everybody for these answers! For the historical record, I'll come back and update this thread on how I finally find my job.
posted by jbb7 at 9:55 PM on January 6, 2007


I actually know of something (stealth level start-up looking for programming help) that you might be interested in - I'm going to email you directly.
posted by nemetz33 at 5:47 PM on January 9, 2007

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