The Startup
Published in

The Startup

Career Advice No One Gives You

There’s plenty of career advice out there. I’m no career expert, but I have been fortunate enough to work at some amazing companies like Google and McKinsey. I have also started and sold a couple of companies and have had many failures. I have hired dozens of people in my career and both bet on some real stars and some that were my hiring mistake.

If there are three things I’d tell myself when I was starting out my career, I would boil them down to the following:

1. Growth stage companies are your best bet

Early stage companies are exciting, but the risk is simply not worth it. It’s tempting to join a company that wants to disrupt something, but the fact is most companies are designed to fail.

Starting a company is fundamentally an irrational decision. Most early stage founders are good at selling a vision to prospective employees and investors, but they severely underestimate market challenges and risks. What they don’t tell you (or don’t realize themselves) is they have 18–24 months to find product-market fit, and finding product-market fit is ridiculously hard. And even if you get product-market fit, distribution can be a big challenge.

Of course you’ll learn a lot, but when the most likely outcome is failure, two to three years of sixty to eighty hour work weeks is not worth it.

Growth stage companies can be equally exciting, but a lot less risky because they have found product-market fit. They have crossed the riskiest stage of a company’s evolution. You’ll still get to work closely with founders and executives. You’ll still get lots of ownership and independence. You’ll still make a positive impact. But with a lot of risk off the table.

More importantly, you’ll have a good shot at financial upside at a growth company. Owning 0.1% of a $100M company that is growing fast is a lot better than owning 1% of a $5M company that has less than 1% probability of success. And, you won’t have to worry about paying bills because you will get close to market salary.

Shameless plug: At LeanTaaS, we just closed our Series C round and are growing fast. We’re hiring across the board. If you are into building scalable solutions and are a kind of person that wants to own problems and solve them, I’d love to hear from you.

2. Most of the things you care about actually don’t matter

The biggest mistake you can make is joining a company because they offered you $5–10k more. Salary is important, but in the early stages it simply does not matter. You don’t get rich by job hopping for a $10k raise every two years. You get rich by joining a $100M-$1B company as one of the first 100 employees.

The only way to get there is by building relationships with smart and driven people — people that can co-found a company with you or hire you down the lane. This is especially important in Silicon Valley which breeds mafias. If you happened to be early at PayPal, you could have been part of the PayPal Mafia and perhaps an early employee at Facebook, LinkedIn, or Tesla.

The trickiest part is identifying such people. Mission aside, free lunches and foosball tables aside, research the heck out of people you’d be working with; especially the founders, and the CEO if they are different. Look their backgrounds, dig into their networks, read their blogs. Ask yourself how these people can add value to your life even if the company fails. Ultimately that’s your personal success.

Chris Dixon’s famous statement “come for the tool, stay for the network” applies very much to careers. Your resume can get you a job, but in the long run, your reputation and relationships are the only things that matter.

Your net worth is your network.

It does not matter what your role it. It does not matter what your title is.

It’s a well documented fact that when Google offered a job to Sheryl Sandberg, it wasn’t for a specific defined role, but Eric Schmidt told her to join anyway. He told her this: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.” For her, Google was a breakout opportunity.

In a fast growing company, there are a million things to do. You could join as an engineer, but you will see problems everywhere — product wants data, marketing wants leads, sales wants intelligence. Ultimately, your success depends on the company’s success — there’s so much to do, the learning is infinite.

So the best thing you can do early on is to optimize for learning and networks, not earning. Surround yourself with smart and driven people that push you, inspire you, and help you grow.

As Warren Buffet puts it, people that have high levels of intelligence, energy, and integrity. People that can give you breakout opportunities.

3. You can get into any company you want

The thing that most people don’t realize is: people hire people. You don’t get a date by “applying” for one on a dating site; if you really want a date you know what to do. Job search is no different. If you are really determined to work for a company, you can do many projects from outside and hustle your way in.

You need permission to work at a company, but you don’t need permission to work for a company.

That’s exactly the kind of things startups do to find customers. In fact, getting people to hire you is a lot easier than getting them to buy your product or service. Ask any founder — it takes a lot of begging to get the first few customers. Same applies to jobs. Qualifications, relevant skills and experience are in fact less important than persistence, tenacity and your “trampoline index” — the ability to bounce back from failure.

People do take chances on people.

Sanjeev Agrawal is president and chief marketing officer of LeanTaaS. Sanjeev was Google’s first head of product marketing. Since then, he has had leadership roles at three successful startups: CEO of Aloqa, a mobile push platform (acquired by Motorola); VP Product and Marketing at Tellme Networks (acquired by Microsoft); and as the founding CEO of Collegefeed (acquired by AfterCollege). Sanjeev graduated Phi Beta Kappa with an EECS degree from MIT and along the way spent time at McKinsey & Co. and Cisco Systems. He is an avid squash player and has been named by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of the top entrepreneurs innovating in Healthcare.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sanjeev Agrawal

Sanjeev Agrawal


President, Healthcare & CMO @ Head of Product Marketing @google, CEO @aloqa (sold to Motorola), VP Products @tellme (sold to Microsoft), MIT alum