1. When growing, it's better to risk failing loudly than disappear quietly 2. Make polished things and show people
Despite not offering me free massages, catered lunches, or even a fancy office, I took a leap of faith and moved from Atlanta to San Francisco to join an as-of-yet start-up that hadn’t even raised its seed round. For brevity, this post only covers “How” I got so lucky. “Why” I took the risk (Why DeveloperAuction? Why then?) is a very different topic.
Life continued and I went about my high-growth strategy of “make things and show people” by working on a few small products and product extensions. I was in a “burn all the fuel until we get there” mode with my wife. Recreational activities of my youth were significantly reduced on my schedule: video games, guitar, parties, tv, etc… I consciously made the decision to forego being in touch with most of the culture around me in order to focus on building the future I wanted.
Only the occasional youtube video would find its way into my world, like the U.S. Olympic Team of 2012 singing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. And of course like any good pop song, “Call Me Maybe” in general is just impossible to get out of your head.
Then late one night about a month after signing up on DeveloperAuction, my wife and I are getting ready for bed when one last email comes into my inbox (abbreviated for clarity):
Hey there Winfred, I'm Allan Grant, CTO of DeveloperAuction. We're looking to hire our first rails engineer and we found your profile on our site... << insert pitch >> Let me know if you're interested.
I brush the email off as a mistake really. There’s no way I could end up there. We finish brushing our teeth and get under the covers.
Then a wild thought runs through my head, so I ask Lindley what she thinks of me sending a stupid joke back. She laughs and nervously says something about how that could be seen as really rude in a business context. But…
So she ( and her poetic prowess ) helped me finalize the reply to Allan with resume attached.
Hey, you just spammed me And this is crazy But here's my resume So call me maybe?
Within a few minutes I had a response from him sharing major lolz. He wanted to schedule a time to talk later that week, and I could hardly sleep that night.
Our first chat over the phone was nothing too interesting, I recall having the beta-stage project I was showing him fail miserably in some way (of course). He knew I had to finish that semester at Tech, so we decided to stay in touch over the remaining two months to see how things fell together.
By November I knew I didn’t want to finish taking classes at Tech: this part-time + freelance thing just started making less and less sense as the opportunities kept arriving. So I focused my free time solely on my largest client and my latest idea: GiftPool.us, a crowd-gifting platform of sorts. I really wanted to get my best friend a membership to an expensive Cheese of the Month Club for Christmas, so I built an app to help me do it. Luckily, I was meeting with Allan at the beginning of December, and I had a whole Thanksgiving break to spend polishing my app.
The product experience was designed to be brief but have a high impact. I wanted to grab you by the heart when you were thinking about giving to a friend, and sure enough, the hours I spent polishing that old thing paid off. I showed the product to Allan during our next phone call and was able to bring a smile to his face as he logged in and created a gift-pool for someone he cared about. Indeed, he has confirmed for me that the experience he had using my tiny app that day was what made him want to fly me out to San Francisco for the on-site interview.
So flight arrangements were made, and I spent a week contracting with him and the other co-founders to decide if we were a good fit for each other. This week-long contract was a simple “are you genuine” test, and sure enough I was able to ship their top priority features right away thanks to the fact that we used the same tech stack: rails + heroku.
By the end of the week, just 2-3 months after that silly email, they were offering me a good salary and a stipend to help move our lives life to San Francisco.
Since signing my offer letter in December 2012, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the team grow by leaps and bounds: opening multiple offices, being named one of Forbes hottest startups of 2013, raising a massive series A, and finding an amazing team through the very product we are building. (Interested in joining us?)
This story has been told from my perspective as the first hire, but perhaps we can learn from Allan’s choices as well.
Am I too uptight to receive a creative message from an opportunity in my life? Does this possible hire show polish in their task or projects? How do I make sure this person knows I care about what's best for them too? (week-long trial contract + paid trip to San Francisco, travel assistance)
Got any more observations? I’d love to hear them.