"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." Bill Gates
I like that quote…and I have had my share of success…but I have also had my share of failure. My search for meaningful employment is still ongoing, but the last few months have been really different than the 6 months before that. Back in March I found out about this service called “Meetup”. Meetup is a company based in NYC that helps people organize groups based on mutual interests. I was in a rut, still unemployed and I needed to be going somewhere because jobs were not sitting in my living room. Since I wanted to finally learn Spanish I signed up for a Meetup. I went to a couple of them but didn’t really feel like it was structured enough to really move the needle on my language needs…but what it did do was introduce me to Meetup.
Late last year I also found out about Start-Up Digest, though I really did not read it, just looked at the job listings. In June I actually started reading the digest and one day I put it together: Meetups for Startups. DOH! Despite having a twitter handle, and a cheesy wordpress site, I was seriously freaked out and overwhelmed at how the job search process has changed so drastically in the last year. Actually in the last five years, which is how long it has been since I worked a traditional job at a technology company. Add in that since last November I have been looking for work via Venture Loop, Startup Digest and trolling NYT and other news sites to find companies I was interested in etc. and not getting anywhere, at all.
I did the math in June and came to the conclusion that if I did not have a job by the end of September I was going to have to break up with New York. I love New York and I don’t want to have to break up so I determinedly began going to Meetups. I decided to go to 30 Meetups in 30 days. As I started going, I began to understand more of what was happing in this town. I heard about Startup weekend, but had just missed it in June…and then I found NYTech Meetup, and then a Meetup called ThinkTerrace. Obviously, since I had named my sole proprietorship "Think Experience" I needed to go to a meetup on the Terrace, so I went to that one. That was June 29th. There I met this really cool woman who was starting a bartering network. Now I won’t say that as soon as we met we hit it off, in fact she made me work really hard to get her attention. But one day she emailed me thanking me for continuing to follow up with her, despite that fact she never wrote me back.. She explained that she had made some good progress on her startup but seemingly all at once everything fell apart. We agreed to meet on August 10th, and we did. I learned about her challenges, but that was not all…I learned she is an anthropologist who has secured funding and is doing a study on the start-up ecosystem in NYC. I knew some stuff about that, and she knew stuff I did not know.
Though I missed the Startup Weekend in June, I did sign up for the Lean Startup Weekend, was on the winning team, and met a bunch of new people there too. That was July 23rd. I started to recognize people as I continued mapping the ecosystem, all the while trying to find a job. Somewhere along the way, I found out about this guy, Charlie O’Donnell, an entrepreneur in residence at First Round Capital, who was working from all sorts of different places around town before he had an office, and I began following him on twitter. One day I got a tweet that said he was at the Ace Hotel. I just happened to be really close so I walked over there, found him and asked him what I should be doing to get on the radar screen of the people in this community that could help me get a job. He told me, “you need to start reading and commenting on blogs”. I told him I was going to a shit load of meetups but did not see much value in that effort. He said I was probably going to the wrong places and that I should go to the events he recommended in his weekly email. I got signed up before I left and the next week I received the email and started better qualifying my activities. When we talked he said it would take 60 to 90 days for me to get any kind of street cred to leverage to find a job…but that if I just said what I thought, being my authentic self, that the people that dug what I was saying would start to value what I had to say, and may even seek me out.
So, I started reading lots of blogs, finding folks to follow on twitter, read through the portfolios of local VC firms. I did finally comment on a blog, the first was on August 4th. Sarah Tavel @ Bessamer Ventures. It was about Giving Good Phone. She kindly replied to my comment, but I did not understand how to be notified of that so I missed creating a dialogue. The next blog I commented on was Charlie’s ‘This is Going to be Big’ but did not create a dialogue until Tereza Nemessanyi’s XXC combinator rant blew up and all of a sudden the conversation was one that I really could find a voice. A few weeks later I ran into Charlie at “Startup Waffles” (a startup meetup) and I told Charlie he had really inspired me and that I was going to do something big around the XXC space and he told me to hang tight…he would drop a post on the topic soon…and he did. The good news is I got in the conversation with some very enthusiastic women.
Sometime around then I went to a “find a co-founder meetup” and talked with a bunch of people, one guy that I had seen around and wondered what he did and with who…or is it whom? Anyway, I spoke with him and he told me he was an expert, sort of a go-to guy in the ecosystem. So, given my initiative, I asked him a lot of questions about how he became “an expert” or “go to” guy in the ecosystem. He told me he just started showing up, talking…writing and talking. As best I could tell he had never worked at a startup…maybe a technology company but not a start up and we all know that is very different. Well, maybe we ALL don’t but I sure the ‘F do. I could do that, talk and write…plus I have actually worked at start ups, technology start ups.
Days later, I sat with my Think Terrace friend and lamented at how lame this guy’s background was but yet he has cache’? WTF! And all the conversation about this “XX Combinator” was just talk…I needed somebody to do something about it. That day, she encouraged me, and asked why I didn’t just do that. Start the incubator. I decided that I could at least research it. If I could get the right players around the table to get something done that would clearly benefit me. Why not? After all, who is going to help me if I won’t? I decided to start writing my own blog and start shaping my personal brand. Going off what Charlie said, I should allow about 60 – 90 days. I had 48 – 78 left.
The next blog I commented on was Fred Wilson’s “A VC”. It was August 20th when I dropped a festive Happy Birthday on his blog and then I wrote a longish comment on Jim Keenans MBA Monday post about Sales and Commission plans. Fred wrote, "I like your attitude and your approach. What do you do?". As detailed in my blog post “I Eat Elephants” I did not really have anything clever to say, so I just said what it is. I am looking for work and having a tough time. At the end of my comment I asked for a meeting in a fun sort of way…and though I did not get that meeting, he did respond and suggested that the “right” meeting would include his wife, Gotham Gal. I began reading more about her on her blog, and found that she was feeling some of the same things I am feeling, though of course we are at very different places.
Meanwhile, I got an email from Charlie, suggesting I do a case study, show people what I can do. I know he means well and he is trying to help. But really? I gotta do a case study? I guess if that is what I have to do…but, do I need to write it down for people to get that I have "it"? The “whatever” it is that I have. The personality, the energy, the confidence to just go for it. Read “I Eat Elephants” and know that there are more. Stories of building and working with teams, internal and external…fun stories, sad stories, winning and losing…all synching up to be this one representation that is uniquely me. I made a plan, and executed against it…coming in on time and way under budget.
I decided to go to 30 Meetups in 90 days…and well before the 90th day, I am meeting with Gotham Gal, and Fred will be joining us. I know Gotham Gal and I will have a great conversation…we share a lot of the same interests though I don’t know how she feels about some of them…but I do know she is interested in the conversation. And whether or not I am any closer to a job after we meet remains to be seen, but my confidence that I can still achieve something great is back “in da house”. So even if I have to go somewhere else to do it…it will happen for me.
*Update: A lot has happened. Since June 29th I have had over 60 meetings. There have been many meetups, and coffees and phone calls. I set September 30 as the day that I needed to decide if I had a future to build here, in NYC. That day I had 7 opportunities to consider. They are not really jobs, so there are no job offers. Turns out meeting the most powerful people in NYC (when it comes to new business opportunities) is not enough to get a job interview. It HAS been a conversation starter though, and for that I am grateful.
In the end, as it was in the beginning, it is all on me. I am not going to get a job. I have to make one. Turns out I am an entrepreneur. I am a risk taker, a thought leader, an elephant hunter, and as of today, I am not employed. Given what I have learned about myself…I have decided that four of the opportunities have merit. I will be continuing conversations for the next few weeks to figure out if I can make a living from them. There will be an update at www.thinkexperience.com when something changes. Follow me there…or on twitter @msksboyd.
You are not me though…you might be able to get a job. Hopefully you had a predictable career, worked places for long periods of time, have demonstrable and documentable skills, are not over 40 (btw, 50 is not the new 40..it is still 50). The moral of this story? Perhaps it is to get out of the house and meet people, perhaps it is that in order to find where you fit you must really know who you are…and that is exhausting when you have to evaluate decades of experiences…but in the end I think the moral is that…you are not going to get a job…you are going to have to create the opportunity to work. Whether that is for yourself or someone else…you are going to have to earn it.