These days, when companies are sprouting up all over the place and getting VC funding from left and right, it can be overwhelming for professionals to identify opportunities that truly reflect their skill sets. Company A is backed by Andreesen Horowitz, Company B by Sherpa Ventures, Company C by Union Square, and D by Revolution.
Clearly if a company is receiving this kind of VC attention, they are deserving of yours, right?
And if that company hires you to do a job, you’ll be able to do it no problem, right?
Truth of the matter is that what’s most important in life is not finding the next big company — that next unicorn with a billion valuation that’s sure to go public — but rather, the company with a role you’re passionate about and a culture in which you feel most comfortable. Without these two things, no matter how well managed a company may be, and no matter how great the product, you will likely be unhappy, unfulfilled, and worst of all, unsuccessful.
It took me a decade to figure this out, but I’m glad I did.
When I was 21, I joined a start-up staffing agency. I was heavily involved in recruiting for my fraternity in college and thought that staffing would be a natural extension of that. Lo and behold, despite having an amazing manager (now mentor) and team, I realized that selling people on jobs I had zero insight into was a moral challenge for me, so I left to become a corporate recruiter where I could, at the very least, get behind the culture I was pitching to candidates.
I joined a start-up backed by some serious heavyweights, and shortly thereafter there was a freeze on hiring until we could “figure out the path forward.” As a 23 year old, that meant “go find some other stuff to do!” And I did. There were a lot of people at that company who needed willing & able hands/minds to assist them, and I filled that void. That’s part of the beauty of start-ups: any & all hands on deck are welcome & necessary.
Eventually, the company was acquired and after several rounds of layoffs, I found myself putting my own severance package together. Talk about irony…
I was fortunate to have established several pretty solid relationships with great people who, upon hearing of my dismissal, invited me to “get off my unemployed ass” and “come hang out at our start-up for a bit.” Who could resist such a calling?
Shortly thereafter, I was knee-deep in all things rapidly expanding start-up #3. I was the brightest eyed, bushiest tailed member of the team and as a result I was tasked with “figuring it all out.” Nothing could have made me happier. I was the start-up equivalent of a DH in baseball: here’s a problem, go smash it out of the park. It was amazing.
In 6 years, that company grew from 15 to 4000 employees and expanded globally. Its rise was meteoric and it was a lot of fun, but as the company expanded, the start-up feel began to wane. All of a sudden, I was managing a team three times the size of the entire company when I had joined it, and all of those company “all hands” where people gathered around the CEO and drank beers afterwards, turned into a televised mid-day broadcast that was far less intimate or cordial. Eventually, it became difficult to gain a sense of fulfillment every day, so I started looking.
I ended up at a SaaS company based in San Francisco that was the best run company I’ve ever worked for. Everything about them was on point: a founder who stepped into Chief Product Officer role to let a seasoned business executive take the helm as CEO; a management team with decades of experience that knew exactly how to manage others; a global expansion team comprised of rockstars from companies like Uber & LinkedIn; and an operations team that made all remote employees feel as though they were not missing a beat. It was amazing. I was so happy to be working for such a great company.
And then reality set in.
Was I doing a job I loved? No.
Was I thrilled to go to work every day? Nope.
Was I motivating people around me? Not well.
Frankly, I was too concerned with adapting to my new environment to worry about anyone else. I was in a new, uncomfortable role that consumed all of my attention and as such detracted from my responsibilities as a manager. It was challenging, to say the least.
So here’s the point: KNOW YOUR ROLE.
I spent the better part of the last decade “working for awesome companies, doing whatever”, which is not a career path. Truth is, you need to find what it is you LOVE to do, a company you’d LOVE to do it for, and go DO it. Forget about the investors. Forget about the hype. Forget about the valuation and surefire IPO. Forget everything except this question: “will I come into work excited every day, and drag myself out of there at night because I’m so engaged in what I do?” Not comfortable in sales? Don’t sell. Hate operations? Don’t operate (maybe sell?). Prefer social media marketing to anything else? Stop interning on the Hill. Like writing? Start a blog.
For me, the next thing is about working for a DC-based company, managing a team responsible for operations, client service, account management, or product marketing. That’s what I think I’m meant to do. If you know anyone looking to hire for that, let me know!
Irrespective of your personal situation, here are some words I plan on living by moving forward:
Know what you’re good at.
Know what makes you happy.
Know what kind of people you want to work with.
Know your definition of success.
Know your limitations.