Monday, March 19, 2007

PLU Talk, Part I: Know Yourself

Standing on the outside of the Seattle start-up scene in 2000, I can honestly say that I considered a VC backed start-up as one of THE most exciting opportunities that I could ever hope to be a part of. It would have all of the elements I wanted: Developing a concept into a business plan, partnering with really smart investors, successfully raising funds toward the goal of building a business from scratch. Who would want to do anything else?! Oh yeah, and don't forget the bragging rights.

Now that I have been doing the start-up thing for a while, I have come to some serious realizations about the realities of starting a business. One of them is to KNOW YOURSELF. Be honest with yourself, peers, co-workers and investors about your strengths and weaknesses. Particularly in a funded venture, this is critical in that you have many more stakeholders that are depending on you do great things. This is a critical thing at the earliest of stages, as it will help define the skill sets and talents that you bring into your venture first.

I would say that there are many more people out there that want to do a start-up than there are people who should. Start-ups are not for everyone, despite all of the excitement and interest they draw.

One experience that underlined this truth for me is our hiring practices at Jobster. Being a company that built referral sourcing tools for recruiters, you can imagine that we took great pride in building our company based on referrals. In doing so, I believe that we uncovered and hired some of the most elusive Seattle talent, particularly in engineering, sales and business roles. We found superstars in large companies that would be great additions to the team – both on paper and in person; they had what it took to help drive Jobster’s growth.

What we did not anticipate was the dramatic impact that a person’s workplace environment played in their success or failure on the job. Someone who was a rock star in a large enterprise environment might not have the same success in a small start-up like Jobster, unless they could quickly adapt to their surroundings.

Others found that the infrastructure of a large company provided them with a sense of security, direction and role definition that they needed to sleep soundly at night. In larger companies, you may have a team of people to execute the strategies that you define. You also may have interesting political distractions and enjoy playing Survivor at work. Not so in a start-up.

In a start-up, it is up to each person to define and stay on course, and well as shift their role quickly when needed. Every person is also expected to pick up multiple roles and wear a variety of hats, while swimming in a sea of ambiguity. For some, that environment spells opportunity, while for others, it means waking up in cold sweats at night.


The days leading up to March 25, 2004 were tense for me. After giving notice at Microsoft (a company I had no plans on leaving) two weeks earlier, I was anxious about the unknown ahead of me. Would I make it? What if Jobster did not get funding? Was I comfortable being a contractor with no commitment by Ignition and Jobster? How would it feel to not be an employee anymore? These were all of the things that rang through my head as I walked into my exit interview in Building 6 on Microsoft’s Redmond Campus.

After an hour of chatting with a very attentive & sincere Microsoft HR manager, I surrendered my keycard, my badge, and my parking pass as I walked out the door. WAIT… The world did not implode as I secretly thought it would!! In fact, the world seemed to be the very same place as I walked down the path to my car. As the days/months passed working at Ignition, I realized that I was finding all the same security I had before, with one big exception: My security came not from the company that employed me, but rather from my own skills and abilities. This was an important realization that has empowered me with a great amount of professional freedom. Today, while I continue to contribute to the future of Jobster, I have confidence in myself that I can be a valuable part of any team. I think that the most successful and effective entrepreneurs have come to this realization, and are empowered to charge after their dreams without hesitation.