Tricks to getting involved with early stage startups

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

I enjoy speaking to aspiring entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, I spoke to a class of seniors at Drexel University about early-stage startups and entrepreneurship. This is the first post of a couple on some of the topics covered.

I’ve found that students are usually intrigued by startups. They like the idea of working for a small, dynamic company and being able to make an impact rather than lost in a corporate machine. That said, many students are intimidated by the process of starting a business and would rather join a startup that’s already up and running. This in of itself isn’t always the easiest thing. Startups have limited time and money to spend on recruiting. You’re most likely not going to find them at the career fair table next to the Fortune 500 guys. So, how do you get a position with an early-stage startup? Here are some tricks…

Social Media

There are a lot of people who talk about why social media is important. And there are a lot of people who give you weird looks when you tell them that you’re on Twitter. Ignore the latter.

Here’s my personal experience using social media with startups: I’m working for Three Screen Games because of LinkedIn. I was already connected to my co-founder via LinkedIn ““ we met at Penn State, kicked some ideas around while we were there, but didn’t end up working together then. But, when he decided to leave his former position, he updated his LinkedIn status, which showed up on the dashboard or in the weekly email alert. I was curious (his previous venture was going well), so I sent him an email to see what he was up to ““ he didn’t give me a lot of details at first, but we started exchanging a couple of emails, and sure enough, it soon made sense for us to talk about working together.

Resumes are so passive (Andrew Hyde just published a great post about this). Whereas, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs allow you to build a presence ““ a brand for yourself ““ and engage with people that you’re interested in networking with. They allow you to take charge of your networking.

Show Off

Hopefully, the startup that you’re interested in makes something that you like. (In fact, if it doesn’t, you should find something else!) Say you’re interested in working for FanGamb, for example…

What’s the easiest way of getting involved? Show us you really, really care. First off, use the product. Actively use it, see what works well and what doesn’t. Then, get in touch with us. Give us your suggestions. But don’t just send us a quick email that says “hey, you should add this” ““ those emails get filed. Instead, engage with us ““ make us stop and say, wow. Show us that you’ve thought this through, that you’ve considered the angles.

Then, have a plan for how you can add value to the team. We’re busy, we’re trying to make progress one day at a time, putting out fires as we go. We’re not always stopping to think ““ “hey, we could really use someone to do X.” If you come to us, have shown us that you’re really into what we’re building, and then stop us and give us a great example of how we could operate so much more efficiently with you as part of the team, 9 times of out 10, that’s going to work for most entrepreneurs.

(And that’s true of most companies, too ““ showing the value that you can deliver works in the corporate world ““ but it’s usually harder to connect to the right people.)

Charlie O’Donnell , who works for First Round Capital in NYC, has an awesome post about this topic.


If you’re looking to get involved with a startup in Philadelphia, do you know about Philly Startup Leaders? In Boulder, the Boulder New Tech Meetup? In New York, the NYC Tech Meetup?

Startups are sometimes lonely. It’s usually just a few folks sitting in an office, working really hard. There are also lots of questions that entrepreneurs may not know the answers to. What do they do? They engage the local community. In Philly, it may be a little hard to see from the outside looking in, but the city has a great community for startups. As do many cities these days. The monthly meetups and get-togethers are a great venue to meet entrepreneurs and entrepreneur hopefuls that you might be able to work with.

Plus, each of these groups has an active mailing list. There are always startups looking for help, asking questions, and giving advice on the mailing list. It’s another great way to engage the community and participate. If you apply some of the principals discussed above, around personal branding and engaging with entrepreneurs about ideas for their business, I guarantee you, you’ll be making valuable connections and talking to entrepreneurs about problems that actually matter to their business in no time.

So, there are some thoughts on ways to engage early-stage startups and get involved. Feel free to reach out if you have specific questions or comments. It’s a fun topic and I’m happy to give you my thoughts.

  • Sword23

    Here is a start-up I just found. I think they are still in beta but allowing users to create accounts: