I consider myself fortunate have a unique viewpoint on the Nashville Startup Ecosystem, therefore, I often get asked the question above. Here is a summary of my advice. The following is a three stage approach that includes some specific tactics to help you land a job at a startup in Nashville.
Before Starting — What EXACTLY do you want to do?
Myth — Startups hire general strategy startup guys or girls that can do a bit of everything.
Fact — Startups hire people to fill the specific role that they need at that time. So specialize in something, be awesome at it, and convince them to hire you for that function. Once you are on the inside, you can prove that you are a valuable team player and begin to add value in other areas of the business.
* The tighter you can narrow what you want to do the better. This will help you figure out who to network with and which companies to approach. Overall, this approach will make it easier for you to meet with someone who can refer to someone they know who is hiring for that specific skill-set.
Step 1 — Learn the Nashville Startup Ecosystem
Before beginning the networking process, it’s vital that you learn the lay of the land of the Nashville startup scene. This will be beneficial to you in the networking process by making you look informed, intelligent, and by showing whoever you are meeting with that you care enough to do some homework. Doing research before hand will help you figure out who you want to network with and what companies you might want to reach out to directly.
A Guide to Nashville’s Startup Resources
Entrepreneur Center — The new nexus of startups in Nashville, the “EC” is known as a hub for startups, mentors, investors, and has the goal of getting as many startups off the ground as possible. Read their website to learn more and be sure to stop by for a visit or to attend an event.
Nashville Technology Council — They currently have a list of 1,000+ open technology jobs in Nashville. Be sure to check out their annual conference and calendar for lots of interesting events.
Healthcare Council — If you want to work for a healthcare startup, this is a great place to begin your job search. They host events every month that feature the who’s who of the Nashville HC scene. Their sub-organization, Leadership Healthcare, is a great resource as well.
StartupTN.com — Recently launched, the website list 250+ startups in the State of Tennessee. This is the best list of startups available and going through each of them will help you create your list of target companies.
VentureNashville.com — Written by Milt Capps, this is the best news source to learn about the Nashville startup scene. He has written 650+ posts over the last few years and I have read almost every one. They are extremely useful for learning about startups, investors, and the rest of the ecosystem. Also, he details fundings which is a great time to reach out directly to that company (i.e. if a company just raised $10M+; they are going to be hiring soon!)
Main Stream — It’s also worth going back and reading a few months worth of the Nashville Business Journal, the Tennessean Business Section, and the Nashville Post.
Both Sides of the Table — Written by venture capitalist Mark Suster, this blog is full of well written posts that provide amazing detail on everything from getting a job to raising venture capital.
TechCrunch — This is the Wall Street Journal of Silicon Valley. They write about tech startups all the time and reading what is going on there will tell you what is coming in the future in Nashville.
Acting on the Research
Now that you know a bit about the Nashville Startup scene, it is time to act on that research.
I recommend a two pronged approach:
1) Create a Target Company List. This should include companies that sound interesting based on your research and places where you have contacts.
2) Create a Target Networking List. This should include people in your network who have connections within the industry as well as people that work at services firms that support startups. These firms would include VC’s, PE firms, accounting firms, web design/marketing agencies, professional organizations, local universities, etc.
Step 2 — Networking
Now that you have your target list, it’s time to network.
5 Tips for Great Networking in Nashville
1) Research the person and the company before your meeting. LinkedIn is an amazing resource and can help you make the best use of your time. See who they know, where they’ve worked in the past, what their skills are, and also be sure to read as much about the company where they work now as possible (website and news).
2) Be up front and tell them why you are contacting them. Random coffee or drink meet-ups are not as well received as a… “hey I am wanting to do this, can I come by your office and meet with you for 15–30 mins.”
3) If you are unemployed or have the availability and are meeting with a company that you would like to work for that doesn’t have a current opening, think about trying to volunteer to intern or work on a project for them for free. This is normally well received and often turns into a job there or somewhere that they can recommend you. It is better to be able to talk about the project that you are working on for company X than not doing anything at all.
4) Ask for a specific Referral — Since you have done your research before hand and know who they know, ask them introduce you to 3–5 specific people that you think could help you in your job search and know why that connection would be important. You will get a lot of blank stares if you ask “does anybody or company come to mind”, but a lot of great responses if you say, “I was reading about this person you know at company X, would you mind making an intro? I know a lot about that industry because of this experience in my past.”
5) Give them a physical and digital “leave behind” — If someone is nice enough to meet with you or even to refer you to someone else, then empower them. This can take form of a copy of your resume with a note on it detailing the specific type of roles that you are looking for. I would recommend giving them a copy in person as well as sending them a copy they could forward to someone else if needed. This will help, when in three months a friend says to them I am looking to hire someone to do X…if they have a copy of your leave behind you will be at the top of their list.
Lastly, show your southern hospitality. If you meet with someone, send them a follow-up thank you via email or even better a handwritten note.
Step 3 — Staying on their Radar
One of the key things that is often over looked after your networking meeting is how to follow-up. I call this “staying on some one’s radar”. The goal for you is the be the first person that comes to mind when they, or someone in their network, has a job open up at their company. Keep in mind that people like you met with might take 1–4 networking meetings each month, which means if it has been three months since you met with them then you are likely #4–13 on their list of people that they remember is looking for a job.
The key thing to stay on the radar is sending a personalized update email to let keep them up to date with your job search. Be smart and find a reason to email them. News on your end or about their company is a great excuse. I.e. I saw your company won a Next award, congratulations, btw, I am still looking…
Hopefully, this will save you time, organize your search, and, ultimately, make it successful by helping you land your dream job at a startup in Nashville.
Good luck and let me know if I can help,