They call me “dinosaur” in the office. But, I don’t have any gray hair (well, maybe a few), I still live in the city, and I can still remember my college days (Go Blue). I’m only 32 years old, have two kids under 2, and I still play basketball on Tuesday nights. But, I’ve been at AlphaSense for over 5 years. And in the startup world, 5 years is a lifetime. I’ve been told startup years are counted like dog years … so, in that sense, I’ve been here 35 years. You’d think I was preparing for my retirement or at least expecting a ceremony and a gold watch. But instead, I’m just getting started, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Throughout my time at AlphaSense, change has been constant. I’ve seen people, offices and processes come and go, and I’ve accumulated a ton of knowledge about what it takes to be successful at a startup, some of which I hope to share with you here.
Prior to joining AlphaSense, I worked for Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and S&P Capital IQ – all massive companies with 1,000s of employees. Working at these larger companies and then leaving them to join a tiny startup has given me a unique perspective.
At AlphaSense, I was the 2nd employee hired in New York, and 18th overall. We now have 115 employees globally, with headquarters (and approximately 30 people) in NY. The path to get here wasn’t easy, but it was fun, exciting and incredibly rewarding. I left S&P for this tiny startup, and 5 years later, I couldn’t be happier.
If you’re thinking about making a similar move – from a large company to a startup, here are 5 questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you selfless? Ask not what your startup can do for you, but what you can do for your startup. This is a difficult one, because most people are thinking about themselves at work and how they can move up the ladder. Early on, you must realize there is no ladder, and everyone is fighting a battle together. Put aside your career aspirations. If the company succeeds, you’ll succeed.
2. Do you regularly take advantage of opportunities? Startups are different than large companies in terms of access. Around you are the founders of the company, CEOs, CTOs, CROs and others that have had a lot of experience in other fields. At what large company can you walk over to the CEO’s desk on a whim or grab a beer with the CTO to talk shop? Take advantage of your surroundings and learn as much as possible while you have the chance.
3. Do you have thick skin? One of the biggest differences I realized early on while handling sales at a startup was brand recognition. At my previous jobs, whenever I called a prospect or talked to a friend, they all knew the company I worked for. At AlphaSense, every conversation required an explanation and pitch about the company, who we are and what we do. This made every sale that much harder and led to a lot more rejection than at my previous firms. To succeed at a startup, you best be resilient and thick skin is a must.
4. Are you a believer? Once you complete an evaluation of a prospective startup company – before deciding to take the job – you need to truly believe, without a doubt, that this product and company will succeed. Startups will have their ups and downs. It’s important to have faith in yourself and the people around you and to know that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction. I knew, from the day I first saw the product, it was going to change the way financial professionals work. I knew a lot of effort was needed to build awareness in the industry, but I had the belief that we were the right team to make it happen, and I’m even more confident today.
5. Are you resourceful? Startups don’t have every function or role a large corporation has. In the early days, we didn’t have a designated person to solely handle IT, HR or Finance. If your computer broke, it was up to you to fix it. If you wanted a new chair or desk, you had to build it yourself. “That’s not in my job description,” should not be part of your vocabulary, but rather step in and figure out what else you can do to help the organization, outside of your job description. It would have been much harder to be successful here (and likely at any startup), if I wasn’t resourceful in getting things done on my own, while also asking for help from those around me.
Speaking of resourcefulness, because of our success and rapid growth, we outgrew our office space several times. I worked directly with the architect and construction crew on the most recent build-out, so you can add “real estate” onto my list of roles I’ve handled at AlphaSense. I’ve built countless desks, chairs, set up computers, monitors, fixed routers and even took a sledgehammer to knock down a wall – with video to prove it.
Most importantly though, in addition to all the extra-curriculars, I’ve sold millions of dollars of our AlphaSense search engine to our growing client base … now over 700 companies, including some of the largest in the world. Amazingly, after years of having to explain who we are, now when I call someone in the industry and say, “I’m with AlphaSense,” now the response is, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you guys, my buddy uses you and raves about AlphaSense.” What a feeling.
Not every startup will experience the hyper growth and market validation that we have, but no matter which Seed, A, B, or C-round company you join, make sure to give it your all, and say “yes” to as much as you can. Both you and the company will benefit greatly from it.
Best of luck in your startup adventure.