Joining A Startup

China will get many new school and ed tech start-ups in the coming years.

Sometimes I get asked by young people “How do I join a start-up?”

The best advice I ever saw comes from Jeff Bussgang.  He’s a venture capitalist in Boston, and teaches at Harvard Business School.

He gives a lot of common sense advice in his short article.  But two points stand out.

1. “Joiners” don’t get enough credit or recognition (compared to founders).

If I’m going to succeed in starting a school, it’s really the first few Joiners that will make or break this enterprise.  Partners and employees 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.

2. “Julisa.”

Jeff gives an example of a woman who wanted to join a start-up.  She managed to get an interview.  What happened next is what blew me away.  Jeff writes:

Come bearing gifts. When Julisa found out she had a meeting secured with one of the Toast executives, she immediately developed a plan of action to learn more about their business. Since their target customer was restaurants, Julisa grabbed a clipboard and pad of paper and walked up and down the street for a week, interviewing restaurant owners about their experience with point of sales systems. After interviewing owners from 50 restaurants, she distilled her notes into a few key observations and walked into the Toast interview armed with a rich set of feedback.

When the interviewer realized what she had done, her lack of technical skills or startup experience became irrelevant.The whole conversation shifted to her market insights and how Toast should react to them.

By the end of the meeting, the interviewer had invited her back later that afternoon to meet some additional Toast members. In the interim few hours, Julisa quickly put together a slide presentation distilling her research results and used it to frame the conversation. The Toast executive team was blown away and offered her a job a few weeks later. Today, Julisa is Director of Growth at Toast and well on her way to an amazing career in StartUpLand.

Founders need great Joiners.

I bet Jeff’s advice would probably translate to any culture, including the Chinese culture.

If there’s a Chinese edu company or school start-up that you really want to join, think about whether you might do some version of what Julisa did…