#Open Journal: 30 things I learnt spending 3 years in the Parisian Startup Ecosystem — Part 2/3
This is the second article of a 3-part-series. Here I tell you all the (hard learnt) learnings from my first dive in the startup ecosystem, and from my time as the managing director of a startup accelerator.
If you start here it might be hard to follow, so don’t hesitate to go back to part 1.
A really short disclaimer
I’m definitely not a huge success story and these are not pieces of advice everyone should follow. Merely things I learnt along the way. I actually write it out publicly mostly to make sure the lessons stick in my head.
It’s a bit like an #OpenJournal for #OpenLearnings!
So please, if you see something that is contradictory to your experience, point it out and let’s discuss about it! I want to learn even more 🙏
11) Use introductions // Use other people’s network
At some point I discovered “Growth Hacking”. To put it simply, Growth Hacking is what happens when techies apply their tools with the scientific method to digital marketing.
It felt like something for me. And the best way to learn it was by doing it. So I decided to do my graduating internship as a Growth Hacker in a startup.
Thinking in the growth hacking mindset, I asked myself “Where is my target spending time? And how can I get to it?”.
It then occurred to me that one of my distant cousins was working as the Managing Director of a startup accelerator. I shot him an email with my résumé and asked him to share it with the startups he was helping.
Because it made a lot of sense to him (this would help the startups) he was ok to do it. ← note, that’s the secret to a good introduction ask
What really happened is that he kept the résumé for himself and asked me if I wanted to be an on-demand Growth Hacker for 7 startups at a time. It sounded like an awesome deal and a crazy opportunity to learn. I instantly accepted.
Using someone else’s network totally worked and yielded unexpected results. And that’s how I ended up at Startup42!
12) Never accept an offer without working on providing a good alternative first
It turned out my internship had nothing to do with what I expected. I couldn’t have predicted that. But I could definitely have mitigated that risk by looking at other offers before. Instead of “instantly accepting”.
I would have had more leverage during the discussions, and I would have had a better vision of what the job description should/could be.
This is especially relevant when you are taking a new job title. New for you and/or the company.
But, by far, what I should have done is…
13) Get in touch with current and former insiders
Before working for a company, before joining a program or choosing a major, before hiring a new employee, before deciding in general, ask people who have experience with that.
I could have written a quick email, or picked up the phone, and asked about the classical tasks at Startup42, how people felt working there, why they staid or left, what they would change etc.
It’s something so simple and obvious, yet rarely done. Just ask.
14) Enabling people to take risks requires a lot of power over them
It’s hard to effectively help early-stage startups with their Growth Hacking when they don’t pay you and/or you’re not part of the company.
At that stage, startups need to push their product on as many channels as possible, go out in the street, talk to people about their product, make some drastic tests with stripped down MVPs, etc. All that requires taking some risks with your reputation because you promote a half-baked product… or so entrepreneurs think.
Seeing this as a “risk” is healthy. It’s why people strive for perfection. But it prevents you from growing.
I also have this fear. I have to fight against it and, to be honest, I seldom win. But everyday fight again.
To some extent, my job was to be inspiring and pushy enough that people win this fight. And I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the skills, charisma and experience at that point.
15) I’m only a human to start with. Like everyone else
My determination was not strong enough. So when I got confronted with the fact that being a Growth Hacker in residence was hard, I defaulted to other emotionally easier tasks. Like inviting successful entrepreneurs to Startup42, organising events, making sure that everything went smoothly in the program etc.
Little by little I was managing Startup42 since the director at that time was focusing on building H2 University, his new company.
Humans are such that we tend to default to the easier (or at least emotionally easier) tasks to do.
16) Hard things are hard. You better have good reasons to do them
That’s one of the reason building a successful company is so hard. You’ve got to do sh*t no one else wants to do. Paul Graham would say, in a more politically correct way, move schelps.
And that’s one of the reasons why we spend so much time procrastinating…
So now when I’m about to do something hard, I think twice about why I do it and make sure I’m 200% motivated. Or I try not to do it.
17) Try people on their skills before you hire them
The end of my not-so growth-hacky internship was approaching. And I got a suggestion for a job as a Growth Hacker in a fast growing startup (LinkedIn skills help). I decided to go through the interview process.
It was really interesting as they had 3 rounds, with exercises to test the people. This put me in a situation where I had to show my true skills and it motivated me even more to get the job.
They gave exercises that were really relevant to the job and I could project myself doing it. Clearly a win-win situation.
18) Make sure interviews can’t be mistaken with working for free
The only problem was that it was too relevant.
The exercises were: “Lay down a strategic plan for our product if we would give you x€” or “Create a mockup for the launch of Y, our next product”. It was like consulting for them. Except since I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get any compensation for it.
I ended up being a bit bitter about the people there. It quickly went away, but I think I could have had a worse reaction.
Lesson learned: test people on their skills by giving them exercises that look like the job — it has lots of benefits for both sides. BUT not on the exact job. Or compensate them for it.
19) Always remember the reasons you accepted a deal for
I didn’t get the position, but I got something else out of it. The, director of Startup42 got scared that I would leave after my internship. Which wasn’t convenient because he saw me as a… potential replacement for him!
Now, that wasn’t an offer I was prepared for. But I had to consider it since it meant having interesting responsibilities at a company which had a nice place in the startup ecosystem.
When you help startups, you’re at the same level as everyone else who is also helping startups: VCs, BAs, other incubators/accelerators, the administration. They all need you as much as you need them.
It meant that when I would build a company, I could reach all these people super fast, because they would know me already.
So I took the job, almost only for that reason.
Now looking back, I think I got caught up in the Startup42 experience and didn’t use it actively enough to boost my network for my next, bigger move.
I should have kept that goal in mind and made a clear plan to get there. Not just “I make Startup42 work better and I’ll get famous, worst case, I’ll learn a ton”. This doesn’t happen like that.
20) Think about the best case scenario(s), when stars line up, does it fit with your plan?
I think I didn’t even look at what the best scenario would actually be and what it would mean for me. And also what’s the worst case scenario. That’s the least planning I can do.
Next time I consider an opportunity, I’ll ask myself: if everything goes well, that I rock the place and do an awesome job, what’s exactly in it for me?
If this sounds like it’s not convincing enough, I would compare it to the other opportunities I generated (remember #12?). If the worst case scenario sounds bad, I’d come up with plans to not fall into it too easily. If these plans sound hardly feasible, I’d have a doubt.
Note: Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time at Startup42, I’m just looking back at it and in hindsight, thinking I could have gotten more out of it.
I have the feeling it can sound like obvious lessons, but they really aren’t.
Who actually takes the time to do this?
Especially when you’re caught up in the moment, surprised and impressed by what you can imagine is behind the door. And/or when you’re like me and you tend te be selfless and focus on what’s in it for the company, in that case, Startup42.
The hardest part is to think about this while you’re in that state. And that’s why I write these articles, so that next time I’ll remember. Or so that maybe some of you will be in the middle of such decisions when you read this.
That’s it for Part 2!
These were the learnings from my time as an intern at Startup42.
Next part will be about what I learnt while I was managing Startup42.
To get part 3 in your inbox as soon as it’s out, leave your email in the form right under or click here if you’re reading on your mobile.
And here’s what I’m up to now:
If you’re managing an e-commerce or a SaaS business you probably spend a ton of time getting people on your website, acquisition is freaking hard!
And you also think it sucks when these precious leads don’t go down the funnel as expected and just leave, soooo much time waisted…
Well, I spent a lot of time helping startups on these topics. It was hard and even when they understood my recommendations, they couldn’t always implement them because they had so many other things to do!
So I decided to create an agency dedicated to helping startups optimise their funnel and implement the right analytics to be able to learn from converted and non converted customers. And I do the frontend and integration myself.
Feel free to send me an email if you’re interested, we can start by a quick audit of your current website!