I can’t thank how many people offered me support when I posted the last entry. I really didn’t expect this; it was something I was writing for me. soli Deo gloria.
Waking up in the mornings was tougher than when I had been waking up to go to a work I simply didn’t enjoy. I would lie in bed and just roll around. Exercising was a chore and I was trying to hide from the terrifying idea that I was 23 years old and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life—even if I did, could I do it? A lot of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-pity took place—which just goes to show you that oftentimes, sadness stems from a lack of introspection and more of selfishness.
But then I received an email on one of these pathetic mornings. It was from Paul Murphy of Aviary. He briefly told me about how he and a few others have been trying to start a New York chapter of Startup America for the past few months, but because they were so busy, they needed a guy like me who had all the free time in the world to be the project manager and direct in launching it. I had heard of Startup America and was pretty excited about the cause. I expressed interest, and I ended up taking on a call with the team. Things moved fast. I had lunch at Pret with Paul and subsequently met with him, Tarek, and Brian Shields for a few brews some days later.
Needless to say, the trip back home was exciting. I began scribbling in my notebook because we all had big visions for this. We knew the potential in this initiative and were excited to see it grow. I was just happy to be in the center of it all; within a matter of days, I went from being a lazy bum with no purpose to a guy who would be directing startup dudes in a big statewide initiative.
By the by, we’re launching November 7th and 1 World Financial Center!
The IT gig I had mentioned in part one lasted two weeks, and on my second week, coming back home from work, I saw a tweet from Alex Taub, looking for two PS3 controllers for the hackathon I couldn’t get myself into. I panicked and my desperation may have come off strong. I quickly shot over an email through my phone:
Just saw your tweet. Got two controllers fully charged and ready to go if you want them! Would like to attend the hackathon and hand out water/coffee and/or setup/cleanup in exchange if possible. Please let me know.
I kept refreshing my email, then ended up tweeting him that I sent him an email. Looking back, it was a little embarrassing. (By the by, they ended up not even using the controllers.)
It was a done deal. Just a few days before the hackathon, I was able to wedge my way into the line of (what I later learned) awesome volunteers they already had signed up for all the shifts so as to stay throughout the entire event.
My mom always taught me never to be late, so I got up early and took in the Long Island Railroad early in the morning. I distinctly remember praying that if I don’t end up learning—whether it’d be how hackathons are run or meeting some great people, I’m going to throw in the towel. It wasn’t that I couldn’t take all the rejections, it was that combined with my diminishing bank balances. I arrived at the eCommerce Hack Day (eHD) first, whereupon Nicole, Kate, and Michael stood up introduce themselves as they had just arrived as well. Nicole, as she was greeting me, took out her hand and said, “You won.” I was confused. It was too early in the morning for me to understand anything and I remember staring at her blankly for what seemed like forever. She explained that I beat other volunteers in getting there first. Great way for me to start off the event awkward.
I started off the day slow. My mind wasn’t turned on but then, before I knew it, I just started volunteering for random things. I had run shows and events before back in college and I knew in any kind of event, there really was no reason to sit and relax. So whatever needed to be done, I took care of it. It was something I developed throughout my years of being a generally introverted person; sitting down required playing on the phone or sparking a conversation with a stranger. I opted to move around and be on my feet the whole time. It was something I’d enjoyed since I was in high school; rather than enjoying a show by being a part of the audience, I liked running it.
By late afternoon, Jason Saltzman, the CEO of the venue at which the hackathon was taking place, came up to me and said that people were mentioning me by name. I’m sure he probably only heard it once or twice, but the way he said it sounded pretty cool. It wasn’t anything to gas myself up with, but it was a great form of encouragement that spurred me on to keep going. To be honest, it wasn’t hard work. It was just stuff that had to be done for the organizers to have an easier time running what was more important. I really don’t remember doing any much more than the other volunteers either. I’m also not saying this just to be nice; I think we all had an eye out on what needed to be done and executed it. I’ve worked in groups many a time and I’ve had my share of bad teammates. Working with people who complain, have a negative aura, or just a bad or lazy attitude can wear you down and suck the energy out of you. There was a point in the conference where we had to scrub the walls down. I don’t remember one of us really complaining; we all had our fun laughing at ourselves and how impossible the task seemed.
We got to stay up til the wee hours just talking with people, tweeting like crazy with the #eHD hashtag, feed the homeless (loads of fun), and even create circles of trust. Simply put, I had the time of my life.
While the hackathon was coming to a close and we were closing up shop, Nicole asked me whether I had anything lined up for a job. When people introduced themselves, they always mentioned their job. So when they asked me what I did (at this point I was jaded), I answered honestly, “I’m just unemployed.” Some people would cut me off and say, “No way! It’s FUNemployed!” My face would be smiling but my mind would be wondering what in the world they were talking about. But I digress..
In response, I answered honestly that I didn’t. She then asked me if I liked Dwolla. I told her I loved Dwolla. I had a general interest in mobile payments and I thought what Dwolla was doing was really cool. Not only had I followed Alex from before he moved to Dwolla (and therefore first heard about it through his blog) but after speaking with Omar Qari (during the hackathon and days that followed) I got a more subjective understanding of the space. It was an honest answer to an unexpected question. She didn’t promise anything, but told me that she would ask if there were any space for me in the NYC team for me to possibly be a part of.
That night, as I got home, I stole a page from Megan Towe and shot over a handwritten card to Dwolla addressing it to General Assembly, where the NYC team worked out of. Shortly after, I saw the tweet that they got the letter and ended up getting a handwritten note from Kate and Nicole. I then followed up with Nicole, who told me to come into GA a few days later to meet with the team (minus Michael).
I spoke with Alex first, then Nicole, then (my future fellow intern) Carleen. The NYC Team invited me to the announcement of their awesome (I know that’s a cliche word—but seriously, this is awesome) fundraising platform: reddit Donate. Without hesitation, I accepted the invitation and went, rocking the only Dwolla shirt I was able to snag from the hackathon that was my size. The next few days was a blur. I exchanged a few emails with Jenna Hogan from Dwolla Iowa, Skyped an interview (which didn’t go so well), went on a call with her—and before I knew it, I was emailed a bunch of papers to fill out and schedule my first day at GA.
I got a position (albeit an internship) at a company I just want to see take over the world. I don’t care if I don’t have any equity at this point, I don’t care if I don’t cash out when Dwolla explodes—I know it’s going to be on top of the world, and I’m just excited to be a part of it right now. I got an @dwolla.com email address, Alex Taub followed me on Twitter—I got mentioned in an article (yeah…that paragraph on Dwolla? Me, baby).
But here’s the thing: when people hear me talk about the company I now am a part of, they get jealous. That’s fine. That’s awesome; that’s greater validation for me. But when they tell me, “You’re so lucky!” I look away. I shut out the world for a few seconds. No, I’m really not. I’m a kid who graduated out of college late. I didn’t have much on my resume. I can be socially awkward and extremely introverted. I didn’t have any skills that would have helped Dwolla. I was a nobody, really. And although I’m so incredibly blessed to wake up every morning and be excited to rep Dwolla, while all my friends who graduated on time or earlier are just thinking “another day, another dollar,” I’d never want to discount the countless meetings I had with people. The coffees, the bagels, the beers, the sandwiches and pad thai’s I bought for people. The amount of money I invested in trekking out to Manhattan from Queens whenever someone was willing to sit down with me or to take a Skillshare class. The doubt and fear I felt waking up every morning. I want to look back because all that is behind me. I’m looking because I refuse to ever go back to feeling like that again.
Looking back, I feel like I may have rushed this; I had no idea how many people would read this! I left out so many people from Derek to Dorian to Stephen—any many more. All the friends I picked up along the way. Everyone who would hear me out. I would have never imagined I’d be here with, really, the best team anyone could ever ask to work with. I’m just starting and I’ve so, so much to learn. They are so patient with me and willing to teach me. Serious thanks to Nicole for asking around to find an opening for me and staying around to work full time for Dwolla. Thanks to Dwolla Iowa AND NYC for keeping it real. And thanks to Sony for making PS3.
During my hunt, I’ve read so many “success stories” like John Exley’s and Scott Britton’s hoping I could be one of them. I’ve tried making videos like Matthew Epstein while even asking a friend to use his celebrity status to help me. I made Prezi presentations, shot cold emails, and copied a lot of people who had pretty cool stories on how they got into the startup space. If I could speak to anyone who’s trying to do whatever they can to find their dream job, it’d be to first clear their eyes of chasing any kind of glamour and glitz. Then it’d be the most important advice: be authentic. Don’t hide yourself. Don’t try to follow a formula because you’ll fail. Craft your own story, your own style. I did what I knew and kept to my own weird sense of humor and ended up in a better team than I would have ever imagined.
But just because I got in, I know this isn’t it. This is just a segue way into what’s to come. It’s time to keep my head down and learn as much as possible. Soak everything in and keep my eye out for whatever the team needs, being no different from the hackathon. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Maybe next time, I’ll be mentioned in an article and not be anonymous but actually have my name stated. Nah, not maybe. I will. Soon. Boss man Alex Taub isn’t going to be eligible for Business Insider’s 25 and Under in NY Tech anymore. Maybe next year, I’ll rep Dwolla. And the year after that.