Go Work at Snapchat!

A common question I’m asked: “Are startups or companies like Google or Facebook interested in people with my background and experience.” I get asked this question by friends or acquaintances, especially those who are in traditional industries or careers. Everyone is curious about startups or technology companies and some simply ask because they want to pivot their career. There is no simple answer because everyone has different circumstances and motivations: marriage, kids, career trajectory, etc.

The most common question I’ve asked when counseling people is “Are you still learning?” I think that’s really the single most important question because learning is what excites us; learning is what challenges us; and learning is what makes us feel accomplished. Salaries and titles are nice, but learning is really the currency that keeps us interested in work and in life.

Just over two years ago I was about to sit down at a steakhouse in Tampa, Florida. Right before we were seated I got a call from a friend in NYC and I thought it was curious that he was calling me on a Friday evening. We live in such a text heavy world that whenever anybody calls, I feel a call must be urgent. Remember those days when calling was the norm? When I answered, my friend asked if I had time to give him career advice. I felt compelled to talk so I delayed our dinner seating.

He told me that he had a job offer to go to Snapchat and he asked me if he should go. I quickly replied, “What’s your question?” He repeated, “Should I go work at Snapchat?” I repeated the same response, “What’s your question?” I said of course go! Go west young man! The discussion was longer than that exchange and we obviously debated the merits of going vs. staying.

My friend was a smart guy with an MBA who worked as an investment banker at one of the big named banks. He already had a solid career and was moving stepwise in investment banking fashion. But he was torn between moving he and his wife to Venice Beach and plunging into an industry he was unfamiliar with vs. staying in NYC and trudging along in an established career pathway.

What I simply told him was that if he worked at Snapchat and it all failed, then guess what, you’ve got real industry experience in the startup/tech world: real trench work. And so what if Snapchat fails, you can always go back to investment banking but have the distinct advantage of real startup experience. And if returning to investment banking doesn’t appeal to you, then you’ve got startup experience that can help you segue into another startup. That industry experience alone in my opinion is a significant advantage over his peers.

Fast forward to last week — the morning of Snapchat’s IPO — I receive a text with this picture from him: It’s the nameplate provided by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to commemorate that special day when a company gets listed for the first time onto the exchange.

I responded, “looks like you made the right decision.” His response to me, “I still need career advice.” I wanted to say, “I think you’re doing just fine.” But instead, I responded “Anytime brother. You know my number.”