While 99% of people are still submitting their resumes, there are the .01% who are constantly approached by startups with millions of funding. Why does this happen? Simply because they are the titans of the startup industry.
For example, I recently learned that in my previous job, they are paying someone $10k per month for ‘part-time work’. That’s only 20 hours per week, 80 hours per month, and all he does is act as an adviser to the founders of the business.
Even though he wasn’t hired as a co-founder, he is still on that level and is earning more than a majority of Americans because he has built, through the years, multiple skillsets that proved useful in not just the companies he has worked with, but to his own startup as well.
So, what are the secrets? Let me warn you, though, that these secrets take time to build up. They are not just some quick and easy solutions you can learn online in a week, month, or year. These are the things that you pick up, experience, and do over several years. And if you are just starting your career now, you must keep the following in mind (think of it as an investment in your future).
1. Specialize in diverse skills
It is ironic to say that you should specialize in multiple skills since specializing means you are focused and are the best on one thing only, but the playing field has changed in recent years. The "jack of all trades, master of none" saying is no longer applicable.
Anyone can be a master of several trades. Case in point – many influential tech entrepreneurs are accomplished in one field and are also great at some other skill that plays a vital role in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
Since we are talking about being hired at a startup as a co-founder, it’s important to understand that generally, startups have limited resources to spend on perks and salaries, that’s why they value people who have mastered multiple skills over those who only specialize on one thing. For example, most can’t afford to have separate teams for marketing and development. If you can do both, then you can secure a place at their high table.
But of course, this doesn’t mean that those who only specialize in one thing have no chance on being hired as a co-founder. What I’m saying is that it is definitely a big plus.
Another important note is that if you are aiming to be hired internationally, it won’t hurt to learn a couple of foreign languages as well. If you speak English well, learning German will be easy. Mandarin and Spanish are also hot in the market.
2. Try to learn things quickly
Entrepreneurs are extremely busy people and every second they have is important to further their goals. If you aim to be someone different startups want to be in their executive team, then you really need to learn, think and act faster than most people.
For example, if reading a 300-page book takes the average person 8 hours to finish, your goal should be to do it in three or four hours. In a speed reading test made by Staples, it is shown that an average college student reads 450 words per minute, a high-level executive at 575, college professors at 675, and speed readers at over 1,500, which most likely includes lawyers who read through thousands of pages each day or week.
Of course, it’s not just about reading. The aim is to keep your brain malleable. That means you need to train your brain to adapt and learn new things constantly because what’s reading for if you can’t "learn" the things you read, right? This also applies to learning new technologies that may arise anytime, be it programming, marketing, big data, or the like.
3. Possess mental and emotional fortitude
Running a startup is both mentally and emotionally taxing. Many people assume that being at the top of the hierarchy in a company means you get to dilly dally around when in fact, that’s where the most stressful decisions are made. Every day is a mix of making decisions, from minor stuff to literally making a decision that would potentially ruin the company down under (or secure multi-million funding).
Assume that each day will be stressful and that you will be bombarded with issues even during your supposed rest days or vacation time (if there even such a thing). Developing mental and emotional toughness is not an exact science, but it can be done through rigorous introspection and meditation, including learning how to tolerate minor discomforts, evaluating your beliefs, and the like. Here is a good article about this topic.
Founders who are looking for co-founders can and will detect weakness in your mentality and emotions. Your past record will also be a glaring indication of how tough or weak you are in dealing with high-stress environments and situations. And if they deem that you are not on the level where they can be comfortable with you being on a top spot, then you won’t get the job even if you are highly skilled in many facets.
4. Build personal projects
Having experience in a couple of companies at a senior executive role is definitely a plus, and will likely land you a great deal. But do you know what’s going to turn "likely" into "most likely"? Building your own personal project that culminates your skills and years of experience.
In the same sense that actual skill trumps grades received from school, having a concrete example of your experience will work wonders in your job hunting.
Answer this question: If you were to look for a co-founder for your startup who would you rather hire? Someone who has 10 years of experience in web development in three different international companies and has held senior management roles or someone who has built their own SaaS company and has been in business for 2 years?
Building a personal project can propel your career into the future. Start by looking at the successful companies of the past, including the ones that are booming currently, and from that make a prediction as to what is going to be hot in the future. It’s all about predicting what people will need, what problems they will experience, and the like.
In today’ market world, data is gaining undeniable significance. Companies that have amassed large amounts of data are now leading the data science revolution. Data visualization is also an up and coming trend that many companies are taking up right now and it is still growing with the growth in the need to process and present a data.
5. Be far-sighted with a good sense of timing
Ever wondered why some products like the iPhone or digital cameras are considered revolutionary even though their manufacturers weren’t actually the first to develop them?
The first touchscreen phone was developed way back in 1992 by IBM, but Apple took the cake in 2007. The first digital camera was developed by Kodak in 1975, but only a couple of decades later did other companies released their own digital cameras – which inevitably led to Kodak’s downfall. There is such a thing as launching too soon or launching too late.
You see the pattern here? It doesn’t matter if you have a “revolutionary” product if you don’t know how to properly time its release. Timing is everything, as they say, but the truth here is that you also need to understand the market, how people think, how they prefer things to be. Are they ready for it?
Being able to take in a massive amount of information and come up with accurate predictions for decision making that propels the company forward, is one skill that is wanted in co-founders. It takes a lot of mental prowess to do this, and it is a testament to your ability as well if you can do this.
Some final thoughts
By any account, as mentioned in the beginning, these aren’t things that you can simply pick up in a day, week, even an entire year. These are skills and experiences that you pick up over the years of hard work and desire to progress. They require extreme patience, passion, and focus, and that is why not many, even startup founders themselves, achieve the level of success they want.
If you start attending to these as early as now, or by reframing yourself based on the things you have already done in the past and start building and re-evaluating yourself, then chances are you may land yourself a co-founder position at a successful startup.