You’re probably wondering how I got here

From Bay to Brooklyn: 3 reasons Why I Chose an Early-Stage Startup (part 1)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved making things with others. “Things” is vague because my passion for creating has taken on many forms throughout my life.

A brief history of Kevin

Portraits of the artist as a young man

I drew and painted from an early age. My most memorable high school experiences are from shooting short films with friends.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so the influence of Silicon Valley also shaped my formative years. I taught myself Photoshop at an after-school daycare. When my mom’s desktop tower conked out, I booted up Puppy Linux through a thumb drive to recover her files.

These experiences guided me towards attending Stanford University. The interdisciplinary nature of the campus resonated with me, and I loved the people I met. Among other activities, I performed sketch comedy and built a solar-powered artist studio. I completed my bachelor’s in Art Studio and my master’s in Computer Science in 2017.

After graduating, I tackled the question everyone must ask themselves:

What do I want to do with my life?
A wholesome Stanford graduation

Given my experiences and geographical location, creating a tech company seemed like a logical place to start. It checked the boxes of being creative and collaborative. Plus, the flexible lifestyle it afforded was appealing.

I worked to start a company with some friends through the Pear Garage program. But, after realizing we didn’t share the same long-term goals, we spun down our inkling of a startup. I began applying for jobs at companies both big and small. Weeks of preparation and interviews culminated in my decision — in April 2017, I accepted an offer to join a 4-person startup in Brooklyn called Air.

So why choose an early-stage startup thousands of miles from home? How could I resist working at a larger, more established company in the heart of Silicon Valley? There were many factors, professional and personal, that motivated my decision. I’ll cover my professional motivations in this post, but check in a few weeks for my follow-up where I get up close and personal!

Prelude

As a brief overview, Air is a home for all your video capture and storage needs. Our mobile app makes it easy to create, share, and collaborate on videos. We’ll also transfer old media, so you can finally rewatch and share those VHS home movies!

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s jump right in!

Input

My day-to-day work is often down in the dirt. I appreciate that I’m in a position to view our company from the clouds, where I gain insight into our operations.

Working at an early-stage startup means I learn directly from the founders. I’m grateful that I get to come in every day to work with Tyler and Shane. I’ve learned so much on both the business and product side that I never would’ve known if I had tried to go it alone.

Through Tyler’s example, I understand how a CTO/product manager:

  • Develops an overarching vision/timeline
  • Prioritizes roadmap decisions
  • Explains our product to non-technical audiences
  • Conducts interviews and evaluates potential hires

Through Shane’s multi-faceted role as CEO, I’ve learned about:

  • Timing and structuring fundraising cycles
  • Iterating towards a sustainable and profitable business model
  • Building the phases of a product launch from alpha to beta to public
  • Negotiating with third-party partners

I also get to work one-on-one with our design and marketing powerhouses! I’ve learned the phases of building a cohesive identity from implementing Darren’s thoughtful designs. I share my video-editing experience with Amanda as she builds our social presence from scratch. In return, I’ve learned about all the players required for a successful launch campaign.

It’s unlikely that I would have these types of personal interactions if my first job was at a big company.

Output

Big companies front-load a new graduate’s time by teaching them how to work at that specific company. The onboarding process requires weeks (sometimes months!) of bootcamps and orientations, covering everything from HR policies to custom internal systems (e.g. Facebook’s unique version control).

In contrast, I hit the ground running on day 1, still a bit jet-lagged from my flight in the day before.

It begins…

During my first few months, I built our web platform’s video player. After that, I wrote the service that now processes every video uploaded to our platform. I’m now working on our mobile app to roll out our automatic iCloud import feature (coming soon!).

I understand how our various services share code and work together. I’m comfortable across the stack rather than isolated on a tiny cog in a vast machine. Through these projects, I’ve learned bleeding-edge Javascript from the best of the best (s/o to Chris and Jonathan!). I’ve gained direct experience with a plethora of Amazon Web Services, the backbone of the modern Internet. Through Air, I’ve built a base I can apply to personal projects and wherever I take my career.

Culture

Friends!!

In college, I was a part of several communities, including:

  • Staff member in a freshman dorm
  • Writer and actor in a theater group
  • Member of a social fraternity

Each one was different, but I loved contributing to the culture of each. It was fascinating to see how each group would grow closer and evolve as the academic terms flew by.

Since I started, Air has more than doubled in size. The more people we add, the more important it is to define our core values.

One thread that unites us at Air is our interdisciplinary interests. We all view technical expertise and creativity as two sides of the same coin, from Jon’s work as a 3D artist to Ned’s experience designing apps for museums. Our diversity of experiences helps us make our product more useful and inclusive. It also makes for engaging conversations over lunch or drinks. When you spend five days out of the week with the same people, it’s crucial that you enjoy spending time with them.

New friends!!

Tyler and Shane emphasize that as members of the Air team, we have a stake in the company. Several of our upcoming features came from personal ideas and “what if” lunch chats. During company meetings and quarterly reviews, I know that my feedback has impact.

I also know I have ownership over the code I write. Even as our codebase grows in size and complexity, I’m empowered to make decisions and solve problems on my own. On the flip side, I can rely on my colleagues if I ever need a gut check, help debugging, or a pair programming partner.

The opportunity to own equity in Air is another reflection of this commitment. At a larger, more established company, equity is rarely offered to hires upon employment (let alone those coming right out of school).

While the communities I had in college were small and limited in size, Air is growing fast! It’s interesting to reflect on what has changed and what has remained consistent. More importantly, I have the responsibility to help shape our culture as we grow. I’m excited to help guide Air’s growth from a small family to tribe to nation scale.

Conclusion

There’s nothing more rewarding than starting with an idea and nurturing it into something tangible to share and experience.

In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford champions work that relies on criteria external from human control, e.g. the laws of physics. As knowledge work replaces manual labor in the workforce, we lose these objective measures of value. Instead of producing tangible results, career mobility depends on maintaining (or manipulating) group dynamics.

Because I joined Air at an early stage, I have a solid mental model of how our system works. I also don’t have to wait for approval from three layers of management before tackling issues. I have both the knowledge and autonomy to make decisions and solve problems. To Crawford’s point, I can concretely list what I accomplished, what I learned, and what I need to do the next day.

From a professional standpoint, this is why I chose Air: the work I can put in, the knowledge I get out, and the culture I actively take part in creating.


If my words moved you to tears, throw some claps my way and come join us — we’re hiring!