In keeping with titling my blog posts with song lyrics, I wanted to title this a slew of different things:
- took two months but 50 got it done, signed with g-unit
- and i ain’t goin’ nowhere so you can get to know me
- no labels wanted to sign me, i almost gave up
- mama, i’m on top of the world
- i’m sittin on top of the world
- it’s a long ladder to climb and mine is known to stagger
And a ton of other things…but deviation from tradition doesn’t hurt.
What my sister got me upon hearing the news :)
I told you I feel like this is my year. This is just the beginning. Praise God. :)
I was offered a full-time Junior Business Development position at Dwolla. I’m excited to announce that I accepted and am now officially on the team.
Honestly, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve dreamt of writing a post like this for quite a while now. About 10 months ago, I quit my job with no immediate plan. I knew I wanted out of my first job out of college and had fallen in love with the startup world. Some might have thought it was a dumb move. Others might find the story appealing as I chased my dreams. What matters is the now: I’m in.
There aren’t a lot of ladders to climb in a startup but I feel like I’ve climbed a ton already. I started off as a volunteer at Dwolla’s inaugural NYC hackathon, which resulted in my being picked up as a Community Builder Intern, which led to Alex’s taking me under his wing and making me a BD intern, which allowed me to prove myself and sign on as a Jr. Business Development employee.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to this organization to perform at a certain level at all times.” - Kobe Bryant, following the death of Jerry Buss
I know I’m taking this quotation completely out of context, I do feel this way. Dwolla gave me a chance at working in the startup space. Several people in Dwolla provided me with support that I really didn’t deserve. I was given the opportunity to learn everything from scratch while Dwolla remained patient with me.
It’s really amazing how things work out. It’s been a tough time but looking back from this vantage point, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’m excited to be a part of Dwolla’s future. The hustle doesn’t end here; it begins.
You’re standing in a room full of people with a drink (be it alcoholic, soda, water, what have you) in your hand. You scan the room to see who you should approach. It’s a meetup with a ton of influential people. Before you could make a move, someone approaches you. What are the first two questions they ask you?
1. What is your name?
2. What do you do (for a living)?
After a few minutes of chit-chat, you break up and walk over to someone you recognize but haven’t spoken with in months. You exchange pleasantries, then what is the first question they ask you?
Survey says: What are you up to these days?
Our jobs, because we do it for the majority of our weeks, is what defines most of who we are to acquaintances. Our occupations are incredibly important because when we look back, most of what consists of our “life’s work” will be contingent upon what we did for a living. While some can boast a six-figure salary, many cannot admit to loving what they wake up to do every day.
Especially in a time like this, where the outlook of our economy looks bleak and people are taking what they can get in terms of their jobs, finding a job that you love is all the more difficult and this, paradoxically, adds to the allure of startups.
But taking whatever job comes your way or taking a job solely for its monetary benefits is actually more harmful than anything else. Loving what you do produces work proportionate to your passion for it; hating, or being indifferent about, what you do, in turn, produces crap.
When choosing a startup, the size of startups matter but it depends on who you are and what you want to accomplish. A lot of people gave me reasons as to why I should join a particular size.
Small - You can work directly with the founder(s). It’s easier to get mentored, easier to get noticed, and you’ll be able to dabble in everything in that particular setting. It might also be easier to work here since very few people are applying for positions. Of course, the downside is that it can lose funding, the founders may not know what they’re doing, and you’ll be working every waking moment.
Medium - You’ll have a role and it will still be very startup-y. It won’t be as intimate as a small startup but you won’t go unnoticed like an enterprise. It’s not as exclusive as a small one but you’ll still be surrounded by good people. Medium-sized startups, though, tend to share the downsides of both small and large in that the company still has a high risk of going under and, because mid-sized companies are looking to grow, they have a much better idea of who they need on their team, which means that they just may not need you. Timing would be important.
Large - They’re hiring people left and right and so it would be good for you to work there just to get the name on your resume, get paid, be part of a well-oiled machine and then apply to other startups, where you can make a difference. On the other hand, you could drown in the noise from other employees and may need to be exceptional for a longer period of time to be noticed.
Every startup is different and how they bring on talent varies by company and needs. I think the main thing you need to know regarding the people of the company is who you’re going to be spending most of the day with. Is this someone you want to directly report to? Are you willing to work for them? Are you certain that they are willing to teach you or will be thrown in the water and expected to float?
Ask yourself these questions before getting in front of a startup. If you are already in front of them and haven’t thought about this deeply, ask the interview and gather intelligence to make a more educated prediction in regards to your professional (and sometimes personal) growth, which in turn will allow you to produce more for the company.
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.
Thanks so much to those who’ve messaged me via tumblr, my best friend, and the people who’ve seriously invested in me along the way.
On April 16, 2012, I sent out a barrage of personalized emails to several people at SinglePlatform, including a Prezi presentation version of my resume that I had made over the weekend which also explained why I believed I was qualified to work there. Having made draft after draft, image after image of all sorts of presentations, I finally landed on one as I brushed up my Photoshop skills. I also asked a close friend of mine who is the Hairy Dawg for University of Georgia (yes, that’s my boy on your TV screen during UGA games) to post a video pulling out signs that unofficially endorsed me for SinglePlatform.
I sent a heart-to-heart email to the company’s CEO, Wiley Cerili, as well, who promptly responded, arranging for an interview. I had previously sneaked my way into an interview two months prior but failed to move on the interviewing process. This campaign (two months later, mind you) allowed me to get interviewed in their second round by the VP of Sales, Adam Liebman. It was a video interview and it was scheduled for the Monday after. Excited, I enlisted the help of people I grew to admire through networking like Stephen Yang, Dorian Dargan, and Lauryn Ballesteros who all gave me some sincere advice. I felt like I was ready for battle.
When April 23 came around, I actually dressed up for the interview (socks and all). I tried joking around here and there and tried to be as relaxed as possible. When the interview closed, I immediately got ready for a Skillshare class. As I was going, I looked through my blog and shot Adam a follow-up email thanking him for the interview and sending a few links to help clarify/further explain certain things that we had discussed during the interview. He quickly replied thanking me back and saying that he would have a response as to the status of my application by the end of the week.
The next morning, I received an email from Cory Grude, head of HR at SinglePlatform, that read:
Thank you for taking the time to interview with us for the Sales Consultant position. We were impressed with your capabilities and agree you have a great deal to offer. Unfortunately, this was a very competitive position and we are not able to offer you the position at this time.
We appreciate your interest in SinglePlatform; we’d like to keep your information on file should we have an opening that matches your skills
Needless to say, I was crushed. I really thought I would have a surreal chance of working with such an awesome team that was doing awesome things. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to work there was because of the team culture that I felt like they had. Reading their tweets, the bios of their team, press releases, etc., I felt like I wanted to be a part of that team primarily to learn, not work. Researching the startup world, Scott Britton had also become a hero of mine (along with Stephen, Dorian, and a few others). In fact, when I emailed Stephen that I did not get the job, he shot me a quick and simple note that I still remember:
don’t worry about it too much. just try to learn as much as possible from it.
I initially thought it was a little cliche but a few moments later I knew that there would be something I’d be able to learn from it. But the embarrassment I felt, the hopelessness that consumed me really took a toll on me. I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was stuck in a job where I felt like I wasn’t being used to my potential. I was in the process of convincing myself that I’ve already hit the ceiling. With student loans to pay off and a life to lead as an adult, I was having a bit of a crisis. Maybe startups weren’t for me. Maybe I screwed up too much. Maybe I’ve made too much a fool of myself. That day, I printed the rejection email and left it in my moleskin. It was going to remind me to keep going or to stop altogether. I just didn’t know which. Today, even without an official and steady source of income, I tore that paper up.
I’m on my way.
Since then, SinglePlatform exploded to do even greater things, like becoming a part of the Constant Contact family in a HUGE acquisition deal (seriously, congrats to the team). I’ve become a more integrated member in the startup community (Project Manager at Startup for America - NYC Chapter, Official Volunteer at Coalition for Queens, Volunteer at one of the coolest hackathons of the year, and several other really, really cool project that’s under wraps for now—much more on these later). I’ve also developed a friendship with Scott since. It’s been an amazing ride and I know the thrill of it hasn’t even begun. Ever since I started blogging (actually at the suggestion of Scott and Alex Taub), I dreamed of announcing things that I was excited about, especially regarding the path of my career. Now, I’m on the verge of announcing several things over the span of the next few months. Again, the journey’s just begun.
A line from Mad Men will always stick out to me. Don Draper asks an interviewee, “Have you ever been fired?”
My life, like all of us, has been riddled with failures. I think one of the most fortunate failures God used to really wake me up and make me who I am was my failure to graduate on time. It was embarrassing—all my life I was a little above average. I did just enough to be better than the next guy just so that I could say I was. But now I wasn’t even able to graduate the least rigorous school in America. Most of my friends were gone. I was the only one out of my friends paying his own way through college and I was the one who didn’t graduate, accumulating more debt along the way. I had built a grand reputation as a heavy drinker and the least of the professing Christians. I was a walking oxymoron—an embarrassment to myself.
But this failure didn’t make me mope for long. I was able to see this semester as an opportunity. I was broke and hadn’t much to boast about. I slept on a friend’s floor everyday. Sometimes I had to squat at another friend’s place if that friend was being too loud or had people over. It was me, my sleeping bag, and a Knicks Snuggie my sister had gotten me. It put life in perspective for me. People all around the world would do almost anything to go to bed like I did every night. Sleeping on the floor was easy.
That last semester was dedicated to building a work ethic. I would wake up at 6 am every morning, eat a light breakfast, sprint a mile or so uphill before hitting the gym, work out, come back, shower, and walk a few miles to campus. I would pray for a little and read the news, blogs, and everything I could get my hands on. I had scheduled all my classes in the afternoon so that I could do all this even if I were running late. I refrained from going to parties and would only occasionally go out for beers with close friends who stayed in college as well.
It was a very humbling and sobering experience for me. My relationship with my mother and my sister got tremendously better. My outlook on life is much more positive. My priorities were (still are) straightened out. I am so hungry now to make up for lost time and make the most of every second after that. Failure is to be embraced. Failure is to be learned from.
It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention. - Conan O’Brien
Where have you failed?