The StartupSift Thesis

An approach to identifying high growth career opportunities

StartupSift started as an attempt to share a systematic approach to identifying high potential career opportunities. We realized that many talented people capable of ambitious roles currently have few resources for identifying them. Formalizing a process for identifying successful opportunities required a critical analysis of how most people currently decide where to devote their time. Fundamentally most people make their career decisions through one of the following means:

  • In pursuit of social signaling — people choose companies based on the strength of their talent brand. The attraction to these opportunities is often mimetically induced — we’re convinced that opportunities that our peers desire are probably worth pursuing (Eg: Google, Palantir, Dropbox)
  • Emulating a role model — people try to follow the footsteps of a respected authority figure, accepting their decisioning as true north (Eg: “A did 2 years at a hedge fund then moved to hot startup X and made bank so I shall do the same”)
  • Blindly following “best startups” lists — people put their faith in the decision-making of a 3rd party curator without rigorously vetting a company’s actual potential for success and their compatibility in its work environment (Eg: “I just applied to a bunch of breakoutlist startups, I’ll just go work for whoever accepts me”)

The striking similarity in each of these scenarios is that most people tend to put their decision-making faith either in the collective wisdom of their peers or in some 3rd party lacking skin in the game. While finding your next opportunity by any of the above means would likely lead to a comfortable living, the flaw is that they tend to point to the same roles most people pursue. As much as they serve our yearn for validation, the issue with conventional opportunities is that they are often limiting to ambitious people seeking high returns. When most talented people are all tracked on the same playing field it leads to a hyper competitive environment where the metric for success becomes less determined by raw ability and more by secondary factors such as internal politics.

If your goal as an employee is to leverage as much of your ability towards your company’s success then it becomes far more valuable to seek out opportunities most people aren’t pursuing. This is a less apparent truth known to a wise minority of engineers — asymmetrically high success when picking careers requires independent decision making.

The idea here is to cultivate a rigorous decision making process for identifying work environments where you can be most successful. This typically takes the form of a carefully constructed decision framework — a set of important conditions that must be fulfilled in every opportunity you pursue. Outlining what you value in a perfect company is the first step to identifying the relevant signals to find one. Reflecting on incisive questions around what you desire in such an ideal role here is key. These are questions such as:

  • What kinds of hard and valuable problems am I particularly passionate about working on?
  • Given my skillset what are the kinds of companies where I can offer unique value?
  • What particular skills/domain expertise/network do I seek in a company that can put me on a trajectory towards my ultimate goal? (Eg: founding a startup)

The point of this exercise is to have a mental reference for quickly identifying your own compatibility at any given company.

Given this well-defined decision framework for figuring what kinds of opportunities you’re best suited for, the question then becomes where to find these opportunities. That’s where StartupSift comes in. What we offer is a searchable interface capable of performing complex queries for identifying high potential startups. We recognize that much of the hesitance in joining a startup lies in the uncertainty of its success. By using data from a variety of sources to offer a fairly reliable indicator of a startup’s long term potential, we attempt to alleviate concerns around a startup’s success and allow our users to focus their decision on personal compatibility.

While the startups on this site feature an internal ranking based on signals we personally use for determining high growth opportunities it is by no means intended as a one true source of truth. The purpose of this site is merely to complement the decision framework by revealing signals strongly correlated with startup success and surfacing startups that closely align with the personal framework.

This does not mean to say that we necessarily prescribe the startup route for all our users. People have varying inclinations and personal circumstances which would leave many better suited to pursuing more traditional roles. The insight we wish to reveal is the value in joining a startup to those seeking more ambitious roles but don’t know where to look. Picking a startup is a balance between risk tolerance and potential return. Adapting to accommodate a greater level of risk by pursuing slightly unconventional opportunities (granted they possess the right strong signals) offers an alternate route to gaining the high returns enjoyed by those who hit every checkpoint on the tracked path.

This site is essentially an experiment to see if we can influence a culture of conscious career decision making. If you have any thoughts on our approach and how we can improve, we’d love to hear from you.

Special thanks to Ron Bhattacharyay and Jared Zoneraich for discussing some of the ideas described in this essay with me. Thanks to Ron Bhattacharyay, Jared Zoneraich, Jacob Schien and Jordan Gonen for helping bring this site to reality.