Tag Archives: startups

Employer Insight: 5 Things to Expect at a Startup


Susan Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Lynxsy, a mobile recruitment marketplace for companies to hire junior, non-technical talent. Previously, she was an early employee at Tough Mudder where she helped the company grow from 10 to 200 in two years. She graduated from NYU Stern with a degree in Finance and International Business.

Career advice: Take chances, and don’t worry if your career doesn’t follow a formula. The most successful people in history have had non-linear careers.

5 Things to Expect at a Startup

As a soon-to-be or recent grad, you’re chomping at the bit to jump into the workforce. You’ve got a stellar resume and awesome references, but where to begin?

You could take the typical route of college grads and pound the pavement in pursuit of a corporate gig. But maybe you’re looking for a little more excitement and a little less routine, a company that veers off the beaten path and forges its own trail. If you want to be a part of something from the ground up, a startup could be just the place to launch your career.

What exactly will it mean to work at a new uncharted business? Before you fire off your resume, you should know a little bit about what you’re getting into. Here’s a list of five things you can expect—and look forward to—if you work at a startup:

1) Be Ready to Wear Many Hats

When your team is small, as it inevitably will be in the beginning, you’ll likely be assigned tasks not directly in your line of duty. One moment you might be doing competitor research, the next you might be negotiating vendor agreements and the next you could be ordering toilet paper for the office. In your daily grind, you’ll undoubtedly get to dig into projects that would be out of reach in a typical entry-level position.

2)  Change Is the Only Constant

In the world of startups, change is the only constant—so you’d better be flexible. The company could decide to pivot in a new direction. Or employee growth could make you go from the sole business development associate to the head of sales in a matter of weeks. It might be as simple as changing priorities from mid-morning to the afternoon. If it pains you to switch gears all day long, or you’re on the retentive side when it comes to your to-do list, then steer clear. But if you’re game for variety, you’ve got the startup mentality.

3) 100% Mindshare

You won’t be punching a clock the same way you would at an established company.  Startups have a smaller window to get results, which may mean logging extra hours to ramp up the business. Your contributions won’t be confined to the office—if you even have one— and your schedule will probably include late-night brainstorming sessions over pizza. More than your hours, your passion and productivity will be key. You should expect to have 100% mindshare, which may involve eating, breathing and sleeping with the wellbeing of the company on your mind.

4) The Payoff

You shouldn’t join a startup solely on the off chance it could be the next big social network. Join one because you want to roll up your sleeves and be involved in the thrilling nitty-gritty of growing a business. You can make an average entry-level salary ($35K-$45K) and have the opportunity to earn a small equity share in the business. Not all startups will enjoy outrageous success, but those that excel tend to generously reward the individuals who have invested their time and talents to grow the business. Financial compensation aside, you are getting the chance to be involved in something awesome, so enjoy the journey.

5) Unlimited Potential

Career trajectory at a startup isn’t linear. There may be no distinct corporate ladder to climb, but there’s the potential for a big upside if you’re smart, motivated and committed. You could start in customer service and be promoted to managing the entire 20 person customer service team in 3 months. Once you prove yourself, you’ll rise in the organization and gain valuable skills and experience.  If the company takes off, you’ll be invited along for the ride.

Sound exciting and worth a gander? Go for it—make the bold move and explore opportunities with a startup today. If you don’t know where to begin, start your search with Lynxsy.

Would you like to meet  Susan Zheng, co-founder and CEO of Lynxsy? Attend the What’s Next Entrepreneurship Career Panel – Wednesday, Nov. 5th at 5:30pm. RSVP here!

Startup Thoughts and Considerations by 9th Dot

9th Dot is a consumer insight platform that gives individuals a “blank canvas” through which they can share their innovative ideas for improvements with businesses, and  rewards consumers for successfully doing so.  From the businesses’ perspective, they receive insightful information in the form of answers to questions they often don’t even know to ask. Last week, they offered up some advice for the interviewing process. Today, they share what to consider when starting your own business.

So you’re ready to take the plunge?  You’ve got a great idea for a product or service that solves a problem with a huge market size, you’re well underway with developing the technology and have written more code than you ever thought possible, you’re already crafting your go to market strategy and you’ve thought through a business model that will scale seamlessly as your startup grows like a weed.  Think again, and again after that.

Starting your own business is one of the most gratifying things a person can do. Take it from us, we thought careers in banking were exactly what we wanted until we had a taste of what entrepreneurship had to offer.  From seeing your app published in the app store to hearing your first potential customer express interest in your product, starting a business will give you countless ups, but also plenty of downs.

The advice we never received, well, maybe we never sought out, is what exactly to expect before starting a company.  Hindsight, 20/20 as it may be, will never provide all the answers, but it’s certainly given us some perspective that we’d like to share with other budding entrepreneurs.

With that in mind, we asked ourselves, what would have been most helpful for us before we started out?

First, for any milestone you set or any hurdle you want to cross in which you think things will become easier, guess again.  For all the progress we’ve made, from writing the business plan, developing the technology, getting covered in TechCrunch, receiving a formal offer to join an accelerator program, and delivering our first demo to a customer, we’ve continued to learn one thing – it doesn’t get easier.  No matter what your strategy for building your business, whether it be widespread user adoption, monetization from corporate clients, or a combination of both, be prepared for a long slog ahead with progress likely to come at a rate slower than you expect.

The reality is that it takes time to build a business.  Viral marketing, hair on fire problem solving and growth hacking are all great buzz phrases, but none will be your cure all panacea as you look to build awareness of your startup and the problems it solves.  Be creative in your go to market strategy.  Ask friends and family what they think – they’ll likely give you feedback that will lead you to think and rethink ways in which you position your product in the marketplace.

Talk to your co-founders and then talk to them again.  Communication and candor is paramount.  As most investors will tell you, the number one reason startups fail is due to differences in opinions that co-founders are unable to reconcile.  Founders agreements and incorporation papers are a great start, but nothing takes the place of addressing key questions early on:

– Do all of the co-founders share similar risk appetites?  The idea of launching a startup is appealing to everyone, but tolerable by few.  Make sure from the get go that everyone is prepared to give your startup the time and attention necessary to succeed before doing anything else

-Do all of the co-founders have the financial cushion necessary to give it a shot? No matter how much progress you make, and how quickly you make it, you’re a long way from being comfortable.  Assuming you all have the patience to remain uncomfortable for a while, make sure everyone is prepared to forego a meaningful income for a while.

– Be prepared to change and change often.  Pivoting is another one of those buzzwords in the startup industry, but it’s much simpler than that.  While plenty of companies do truly pivot, in many cases more than once, we learned to simply not commit to anything other than having a clear vision to experiment and experiment often.  We thought we had it figured out – our idea solves a major problem, a problem we vetted across several major VCs by sharing our business plan before embarking on our journey.  We thought, “let’s get a little bit of media coverage and run some campaigns over Facebook and Twitter and we’ll be off to the races” – were we ever mistaken.  Dampen your expectations and then dampen them again.  Building a business and a brand takes time, endless amounts of energy, and above all a passion to see your idea grow into a business. Regardless of how good you think your go to market strategy is, think of as many ideas for building awareness for your product or service as you can, you’ll test them all and then think of some more.

Above all, don’t launch your startup because it’s cool to say you launched a startup or because you want to make a lot of money – neither of these reasons are likely to lead to success.  Start a business because you see a solution to a problem that will only seem obvious after you’ve exhaustively told your story to customers and investors, and likely the rest of the World.  We started 9th Dot, a crowdsourcing consumer insight platform, because we saw a tremendous opportunity to create a “win-win” situation for both consumers and businesses. Creating a platform that enables consumers to deliver insightful solutions to businesses and rewards them for doing so made a lot of sense to us, but it was the realization that we couldn’t live with ourselves if we did not that made us decide to slog it out.  As we were told by one VC investor early on, “Remember, entrepreneurs are mostly irrational, driven by a passion for creating something where there was nothing and realizing a vision they couldn’t ignore. It’s like jumping off a cliff and having to build a plane before you hit the ground!”

In case you missed it: Day in the Life of Entrepreneur Jeff Zhang NYU ’08

Jeff Zhang (NYU ’08), tells us all about a day in the life at his start-up,  @ShopSpectre! Click the logo to view!

If you are interested in getting more information about startups, or are looking for an internship at one of the many emerging start-ups in NYC, don’t miss out on our Start-up Expo taking place on November 21st at Kimmel. Register today for more information!

In Case You Missed It: Day In The Life of an Entrepreneur

Did you miss, Stern Alum ’07 Al’s day in the life at his tech start-up, @KeyCuts? If so, click on the logo below for more information.

Interested in entrepreneurship? Have a lot of business ideas that you’d like to explore? Sign up on Career Net for What’s Next? Entrepreneurship at Wasserman on October 30th.

How to Get a Job at a Startup: Part II

In Part I, we reviewed the steps you can take to make yourself an attractive applicant to any startup. The next step is to put all that preparation to good work, and systematically hustle to get your dream job.

Step 1: Do your research before applying

There are thousands of startups out there and just like running a startup itself, focus is everything. Start by researching the various sectors to get a feel for what you’d prefer. Some major areas of inquiry include:

  • Startup Sector: E-commerce, local, social, mobile, enterprise, etc.
  • Industry Sectors: Education, finance, healthcare, entertainment, etc.
  • Company Stage: Pre-seed, seed, Series A, Series B, Series C

Researching to discover your preferences will significantly narrow your search. Ideally, you should pick 5-10 companies that you would do anything to work with. Your process will also show through in the interview because you’ll be better able to express what you want, which helps makes it clear that you won’t quit when the going gets tough (which it will). The worst thing you can do is tell an interviewer ‘I’ve really been looking to get into the startup industry’, with no further elaboration. You might as well say ‘I’ve been looking for a job.’

If after doing this work, you still don’t actually have a preference (let’s say you want to do marketing, but don’t care who you do it for), then the next best strategy is to reach out to VC’s to ask who in their portfolio you should work for. VC’s tend to know who’s up and coming, who’s hot, and who’s not, so if you impress them, they’ll point you in the right direction.

Also note, here are some great startup job resources:

Step 2: Don’t apply to startups like they’re big companies

We get tons of emails addressed “To Whom it May Concern”, with a brief note and resume. When we post jobs in career sites, most applicants just…apply online. We look for people that break the system – that find a way to inject personality, to get ahead of the rest of the applicants, to make it clear that they’re ready to hustle and they have the creative mind to succeed at it. Some random examples of what you could do:

  • Email the founders directly (every email you ever write should be addressed to someone’s name)
  • Even better, network your way into an introduction to the founders
  • Become a super-user of the product & then reach out as a customer
  • Follow the founders on social media and (non-creepily) tweet at them, comment on their blogs, vote up their answers on Quora or Reddit etc – get them familiar with your name
  • Do NOT arbitrarily connect with them on LinkedIn – this always comes across as spam
  • Be persistent. Founders get it. Do not give up until they ask you to give up.

Note that this creative approach is only possible when you’ve done the research upfront and can commit to a few great companies that you’re sure you want to work for. It is impossible to do if you’re trying to apply to every company out there.

Step 3: Make your resume stand out

This sort of fits in with #2, but your resume is another great opportunity to stand out. Describe your experience in a way that wows us. Focus not just on ‘tasks performed’, but on results achieved. Use numbers. Then, use more numbers. Customize your resume to highlight the parts of your experience that are relevant to the company and the role.

Design your resume. Prove that you have an aesthetic eye. Even if you just Google around for a nice template and mold your resume into it, that’s a win, and we’ll notice! Include more than education, work experience and skills. Give us a piece of your personality, and make us want to talk to you.

Step 4: Go for broke in your cover letter

Even after your resume efforts, you should assume that in the end, your experience & credentials are going to put you just on par with the large number of other people applying. That means that the only thing that will help you stand out in the crowd is the most kick-ass cover letter (or intro email) that you can muster. It needs to be short. But it should pack a punch – make it clear why you’re the one – be witty, creative, and show that you’ve done your research. Show that you’re someone we want to spend 60-80 hours a week with. One paragraph can do all of this, and will get even weaker resumes in the door.

Your cover letter should artfully, succinctly convey three things:

  • Why this role is perfect for you
  • Why our company is perfect for you
  • Why you’re incredible

Step 5: Approach the interview like you’re a consultant

Do a ton of research about the company before you walk through those doors. Talk to people about it, get opinions – be audacious and do usability testing on our website! Assemble a portfolio of useful, relevant insight that you can drop in front of us as proof of your hustle, and your work product. That would blow us away.

Then, begin asking questions. Most applicants think the interview is the time for the company to learn about you, but the best applicants are actually vetting the company to decide whether they want to work there. They ask the toughest questions (tougher than VC’s and tougher than journalists) because they’re making a big decision about where to spend the next few years of their lives. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to prove yourself to the company, make them prove themselves to you.

Your questions should be focused; they should show a clear path of thinking about the company, and you must be ready with answers in case a clever interviewer says “That’s a great question, what would you guess the answer is?” Don’t just ask and move on, work through the answer with the interviewer, and try your very best to actually add value to the company in the interview itself. Then, later, think hard about what you discussed and when you send your thank you note (a must do), include further insights you’ve had since your discussion. Your interview should wear the interviewer out, in a good way, and leave them wanting to pick your brain further.

Nihal Parthasarathi (NYU Stern ’08) is co-founder of CourseHorse, an online marketplace that helps people discover, compare and enroll in trusted local classes. CourseHorse partners with established providers of personal and professional classes (ranging from Spanish to cooking to continuing education) and centralizes their programs to make it easier for consumers to find classes and for professional educators to sell their seats. Previously, Nihal was an education technology consultant for Capgemini, where he worked to implement an LMS, redesign the website, and overhaul marketing for a major test-prep provider.



If you’ve heard the joke about start-ups being the new “hipster,” it’s because the combination of the current economical and technological climate is well suited for such an environment. Thanks to laptops that weigh nothing, the universal mobile market, and the fact that the internet can do anything, you cannot doubt the fact that, right now, start-ups are enjoying their golden age.

A startup is described as, if you want to get technical, “a company or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Because startups are designed to search for ideas, they are the perfect working environment for people who feel their creative right brain often outsmarts their analytical left.

I’m a NYU Tisch alum (Dramatic Writing ’11) and do marketing and communications for Pluto Mobile. We are ourselves a start-up, and we just launched the beta build of Pluto, a local discovery app for iPhone that will revolutionize the way you discover New York. I handle all of Pluto’s Social Media and PR.

As much as I’d rather not admit it, the collective phrase “wearing a lot of hats” works better than any other common statement does at describing the start-up environment. Working with a small team on a product that is not yet established means you are really thinking conceptually all of the time. It isn’t so much stepping on other people’s toes as it is working together to craft a product that is innovative, smart, and marketable. So I’ve learned a lot about marketing, which I knew nothing about, sales, which I knew nothing about, and mobile apps! Which… I guess I knew a lot about already.

There are, in general, a lot of perks to working at a start-up. Sophia (Marketing intern)’s immediate reply when I asked her what her favorite perk was is, “We get to wear whatever we want to work.” Jeans included, guys.

Danny, our Marketing Manager, explains: “At a start-up, everybody’s voice is heard. At a corporation you are [often] just a number, but at a start-up, you are actually a person who gets listened to.”

If you are interested in being part of the Pluto team, drop me a message and your resume at christina@myplu.to. If you are interested in being part of the Pluto community, sign up to test our Beta here.