Cristina Cordova

What is it like to work at Stripe?

I joined Stripe one year ago to work on partnerships. We were about 30 people then and we’re about 75 now. Stripe certainly checked all of my boxes at the time, but more importantly, everyone was quietly, singularly focused on building the best product and company possible. That type of environment doesn’t necessarily suit everyone — it’s often stressful — but it tends to attract people who are ambitious and want to achieve a long-term vision. There are countless factors (systems, people, etc.) that have contributed to that, but these are a few that make me excited to work here:


User Focus

A lot of companies define themselves as an “engineering company”, a “product company” or a “sales company”. Stripe is a user company. Everything we do at Stripe, from pricing to building new products hinges on creating the best user experience. We don’t look at a project and think, “How can we make this better than what’s out there?” or “How does the industry do this?”. Rather, we think, “How should this work ideally?”. Making that “ideal” case into a reality is the challenge, but we think it’s much more fun to think about problems in an entirely new way.

Hiring

We’re working hard to solve problems many of us have dealt with before and even more that are novel to us. This is a much easier challenge to face if the people at Stripe are both your teammates and friends. We naturally spend a lot of time together — whether that’s in a Breaking Bad viewing party, going out for drinks at our favorite Mission hangouts, or running/cycling/climbing together. 

As a result, we don’t look for hires who can simply fill a role, but rather we select people who make us even more excited to come to work every day. I’ll often run the thought experiment, “If this person had interviewed me, would I still be as excited about the chance to work with her?”. If the answer is “no”, that means we’re prioritizing our short-term needs over our long-term team quality. This can often result in us not hiring as fast as we’d like, but hiring great people means future recruits will continue to be blown away by the quality of our team.

Empowerment

If we hire great people, we should empower them to do good work on their own. Our philosophy on engineers managing products themselves holds true for other areas of Stripe as well. We spend a lot of time finding people who can both think strategically about their work and execute on their ideas. For those who have never worked in an environment like this before, it can be quite daunting: no one is going to tell you what to do. For people who enjoy this type of autonomy, we’ve seen that it helps them perform even better. We don’t restrict people to their role, team, or job description, and give them the tools and support they need to solve problems across the company.

Transparency

Greg Brockman has written extensively about our views and the implementation of email lists throughout the company. Keeping our internal communication open by default is very indicative of our culture. At many companies, email can lead to silos when the flow of information is constricted within a group or team. This in turn can create politics around who has access to knowledge. At Stripe, you push all the information you can out to the company, and pull in all the information you want. Email is pretty ephemeral though, so we use Hackpad to document knowledge and make it easily accessible and maintainable for the long-term. The open access to information is one of my favorite parts about Stripe, and I can’t imagine operating any other way now.

Engineers and Non-Engineers

I’ve worked at companies in the past that have had a wall (literally) in between the engineering and non-engineering teams. At Stripe, there’s a mutual respect for what all of our teams do, because we know how crucial both engineering and non-engineering teams are to our long-term success. This respect has always been there, and I think it hinges on two areas:

1) Our hiring process: We won’t hire a salesperson that is more focused on hitting a quota than he is at helping potential customers of all sizes. Conversely, we don’t hire the engineer that isn’t willing to help a non-engineer figure out how to fix a typo in some site copy.

2) Mutual understanding: The openness around communication enables people working on sales to understand what our product team ships, and vice-versa, our product team is aware of what leads we’ve closed lately. We also encourage people to get to know other teams well. When our engineers spend time doing support, they can understand what the largest painpoints are in our product, and what needs to be done to best improve our product and the experience for our users.

We’re always looking for people who can help us do great work and build an amazing company. If you’re interested in joining our team, we’d love to talk to you.

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On “Non-Technical”

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I’ve always found the word “Non-Technical” to be a substandard way to compare engineers to those who do everything else at a company. Legal? Non-technical. Marketing? Non-technical. Sales? Non-technical. 

Should those at modern technology companies be explicitly not involved with said technology? Legal impacts what technology you can claim as “yours”, marketing impacts how you describe your technology, and sales puts your technology in the hands of customers. 

We’re no longer in a time where “Non-Technical” works.

Factors in Choosing the Right Startup

You could look at an endless number of factors to determine whether to join a startup, but here are some of my major considerations. I’ve also found that when these factors change (the product is no longer interesting, the growth potential has decreased), it’s likely time to move on. In order:

People

Do the people you’d be working with make you feel like you’re the dumbest person in the room?

Would you put your career in the hands of the founders?

Would you want to be friends with your potential co-workers even if you weren’t working at the company?

Growth Potential

Will this company be fast-growing, but not compromise its values for growth?

Will the growth the company experiences allow you to learn new skills, learn about different markets and become a leader?

If the company succeeds in its mission, does it have a high likelihood of staying independent or selling to a company you’d want to work for?

Product 

Is the product that the company has built something you’re interested in working on, contributing to, or selling? 

Does the product have the chance to beat existing competitors?

Do you trust the product/engineering team to build something great?

Role

Will you be happy doing the job you’ve received an offer for (and only that job) for at least two years?

How to Hire More Women at Your Startup

I’ve been asked “How can I hire more women at my startup?” a number of times and while I’ve always had concrete thoughts, I’ve generally wavered on the topic. Most people understand why it’s important to have more women in the workplace (and more diversity in general beyond gender). Yet, most don’t grasp that the fewer women you have early on, the harder it is to recruit them later. If you wait until you have a 20-person team to think about it, it’s already too late. With that, here are some thoughts on how to recruit more women at your startup:


1) Don’t look for ninjas.
Language such as “rockstar”, “ninja” or even “hacker” will result in fewer female applicants. In your recruiting materials, choose words women use to describe themselves. Don’t ask someone to send you “an example hack”, but instead “an example of quality software”. Don’t say “We only hire the top 1% of candidates”. I know many talented women who don’t have the confidence in their abilities to include themselves in that group, despite being very talented and deserving of it.   

2) Make your workplace one that women will enjoy being in.
Don’t be surprised when a woman visits your dirty hacker house and ends up turning down your job offer. This is not because she can’t cut it in at a small-stage startup, but because working in that environment can be indicative of so much more: 1) not caring about the details, 2) a lack of certainty about the future, 3) working with people who can barely take care of themselves.

3) Care about culture beyond free beer and chips.
I’ve been to numerous startup recruiting pages that talk about a company’s gigantic kegerator before other important aspects of culture. If you think a woman is going to join your company for free whiskey shots, you can stop reading here. Talk about values before freebies: transparency,  communication, autonomy, how people interact outside of work, how you decide what you work on and growth within the company.

4) Have women interview women.
It can be quite daunting for a woman to do six back-to-back interviews all with men. She doesn’t see anyone quite like her and it can be hard to identify with the company or see how she would fit in. I know several companies that require at least one woman to interview a prospective female candidate and I think it’s a good policy to have in place. If your startup is able, have every candidate, regardless of gender, interviewed by a woman on your team — it will help guard against bad hires. 

5) Hire well.
I’ve heard more than a few bad stories about women that interview at a startup full of men and end up running into your token startup douchebag. You know, the one that says his time is more valuable than others on the team. The one that asks your female engineering candidate if she’d be happier in more of a PM role because she isn’t really a hacker. “He’s just a little aspergersy”, you say. Just one of these guys can make it difficult to hire or retain women at your company.

6) Be conscious of gender differences.
I’ve found subtle differences in how men and women write and speak about their work. Men tend to write about the results of their accomplishments and women tend to speak about the process. A man talking about his work might say, “Initiated a new policy that resulted in $XXMM YoY cost savings” whereas a woman might say, “Researched, wrote and prepared new policy to bring more efficiency to supply chain”. Be conscious of how men and women may speak about their work and don’t pass up a resume just because the language used is less results-oriented.

7) Go find them.
So, you’re doing all of the above, but you still don’t have any women applying to work at your startup? Well go out and find them. As someone who was recruited or referred to each of their last four jobs, I know that most of the candidates you want aren’t out there looking. Take the situation into your own hands and search Github, LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever other networks you frequent. One day, in about two hours, I put together a list of about 50 prospective female candidates. If you can’t find potential female candidates, you’re just being lazy.

Why should I switch our websites to Stripe from Paypal?

Answer by Cristina Cordova:

Depending on your specific use case for payments, there can be more differences to highlight, but here is some background to start. Prior to Stripe, when looking for payments service providers, you could basically go in one of two directions:

1. PayPal, Google Checkout, Amazon Payments.
Pros:
- They host payment pages for you, which makes the front-end integration easier, and helps limit PCI requirements.

- You can get started immediately, and don’t have to get your own merchant account.

- Simple pricing, by and large.
Cons:

- Limited control over the user experience — you have to redirect your users to another site, show various logos, etc.

- APIs that are not well-documented or very flexible.

- Often quick to freeze accounts when suspicious of fraudulent activity.


2. More traditional payment service providers (Authorize.net, ChasePaymentech). 
Pros:

- Complete control over the checkout experience.

Cons:

- You handle sensitive card data, which forces you to invest significant time and resources in PCI compliance programs.

- You have to get your own merchant account, which involves lots of paperwork and waiting days or weeks while the underwriting process happens.

- Indecipherable/unpredictable pricing.

- Legacy APIs.


Stripe gives you the best of both worlds with the kind of payments API that should always have existed:

- Complete control over the checkout experience.

- Stripe shoulders the PCI compliance burden by ensuring that you never need to handle sensitive card data.

- You can launch immediately — no need to get your own merchant account.

- Simple pricing.


With that for context, here are some reasons our users have chosen Stripe over PayPal:

Stripe has an an elegant, powerful API. Our API makes it quick and easy to integrate with Stripe. See what people are saying about our API here:  Search - stripe api. Based on what our users have told us, our API is much easier to integrate when compared to PayPal’s. To illustrate, here’s a blog post from one of Stripe’s users about why they switched from PayPal: Why we ditched PayPal for Stripe. Because Stripe’s API and documentation are so much easier to work with, we save our users engineering time, both when initially launching and maintaining their integrations over time.

Build your ideal payment experience. With Stripe, you have the complete freedom to create the payment experience you want. Users can also use Stripe’s clean and elegant checkout experience, if they prefer to not build their own: Stripe: Button. With PayPal’s primary merchant services, you’ll redirect your customers to a PayPal branded webpage in order to pay. This can push customers into a completely different user experience that they’re unfamiliar with. (If you want to design and host your own payment experience with PayPal, you’ll need to use PayPal Payments Pro for an extra $30 per month, and contend with PayPal’s API, or you can also use PayPal entirely as an API/gateway via Payflow Pro, which has the same strengths and weaknesses as other traditional payments service providers listed above.)

Stripe has competitive, crystal-clear pricing. Stripe charges you one rate for each transaction—-that’s it. There are no additional charges for failed transactions, American Express cards, international cards, stored cards, currency conversions, refunds or recurring payments. See more about our pricing here: Stripe: Pricing

PayPal’s fees can make it very difficult to project what you’re going to make from sales and what the true cost of payments processing is. In addition to PayPal’s transaction fees, you might incur the following fees:

- $30 per month if you want to design and host your own checkout pages.

- 1% cross-border surcharge and/or a 2.5% currency conversion fee (see international fee calculator here: PayPal Fees for International Payments) if you want to accept payments from another country

- 3.5% transaction fee when your customers pay with American Express.

- A fixed fee portion of the original transaction fee when you issue a refund.


Stripe offers rapid help from real people. Our users can jump into our real-time community chat for immediate assistance from Stripe staff and our growing community of users, or email us for a fast, personal response. See an example from one of our customers here:

"I am not easily emotionally moved by git command lines, but this is clearly somebody who understands me and what I need in life.  In addition to exactly diagnosing the problem…he fixed it for everyone else. Sidenote: This is one of the very few times in my life where mailing support@ made me a better engineer." - Stripe And A/B Testing Made Me A Small Fortune


Based on what our users have told us, PayPal’s customer support has left users wanting more:

- A PayPal user discusses how his account was erroneously shut down: Good riddance, PayPal

- “A combination of being unhappy with customer support and the disruption of our checkout process with redirects led to us searching for alternatives.” - Why we ditched PayPal for Stripe

- A PayPal user describes an exchange with customer support: My recent experience with PayPal Customer Service.


Stripe prides itself on having fast and thorough support from our engineers to help when you need it.

A fast, powerful dashboard. Stripe’s interface is fast, exposes everything from bank transfers to HTTP request logs, provides instant type-ahead search over all your data, and generally makes managing your business simple and enjoyable. Once they get up and running, PayPal users often run into issues with the account management interface. It’s slow and it’s hard to perform functions like refunding transactions.

We hope you’ll find that Stripe makes it easy for you to build and scale a business on the internet, and we’d love to get your feedback on how we can do even better.

View Answer on Quora

What Makes Mobile Retention So Difficult

In my last post, I aimed to draw attention to the fact that while consumers and the press like having a simple number they can understand, mobile metrics are not one size fits all. For some mobile companies, the internal focus may be on daily or even hourly active users. For others, monthly active users may make the most sense.

There are numerous tools available that help developers understand mobile retention and analytics, such as Flurry, MixPanel or Apsalar. Yet, understanding mobile retention is still difficult because of reasons far out of any developer’s control:

1. Mobile Developers Don’t Know Where Their Downloads Come From


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Web developers have the luxury of being able to easily view traffic sources and understand how users get to their sites (search keywords, queries, direct, referrals etc.). With mobile, you’re flying blind, as the App Store and Google Play give you almost no information about how users learned of your product. If you’re not sure how you acquired that user, you certainly can’t optimize that acquisition process.

2. Mobile Developers Don’t Know When Their Apps Are Deleted

One data point I’ve longed for on mobile is knowing which users delete your application. There are several mobile apps that still send me email notifications or product updates, not knowing that I’ve already deleted their apps from my device. While I can imagine this metric isn’t given out because it may upset some developers (similar to getting an email every time a person removes you as a friend on Facebook, perhaps), I think it’s important to understand if you plan on building a sustainable app on another platform. 

3. Mobile Developers Don’t Know Why Users Drop Off 

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When I unsubscribe from an email newsletter, downgrade a subscription service or delete an account on the web, I often get an email asking why I’m leaving. Because most users on mobile seem to just fade away (put an app on their 6th page or delete it without notification), the developer doesn’t know if or why their users drop off. 

These are issues the average mobile developer faces when attempting to combat mobile retention problems. Unfortunately, much of the data that would allow developers to make more informed decisions to improve retention is locked up by the mobile platforms. It’s not that running a sustainable audience or business on mobile is impossible, you’re just starting a few steps behind.

Is any company better at acquisitions than Google?

Answer by Cristina Cordova:

I’d argue that Facebook does a great job with acquisitions, but they have an entirely different approach than Google. Facebook buys companies for talent and not for technology, with the sole exception of Instagram.

A few of the key hires from Facebook acquisitions include:

Blake Ross (Parakey): Started the Mozilla Firefox project, now Facebook’s Director of Product

Joe Hewitt (Parakey): Worked on the Firefox web browser and related software development tools like Firebug. He created Facebook’s iPhone app, the most downloaded app of all time. 

Paul Buchheit (FriendFeed): The creator of Gmail. Zuckerberg once said  Paul was “leading the engineering culture at Facebook” 

Bret Taylor (FriendFeed): Co-Creator of Google Maps, later became Facebook’s CTO


Pitting Google and Facebook against each other in this context is probably the wrong approach, as they are different companies at entirely different stages. However, any acquisition in which you can select and retain this type of talent is impressive.

View Answer on Quora

The Biggest Problem in Mobile: Retention

When I read Fred Wilson’s post this morning about the tough times consumer companies are having raising money, his second point resonated with me most:

"distribution is much harder on mobile than web and we see a lot of mobile first startups getting stuck in the transition from successful product to large user base. strong product market fit is no longer enough to get to a large user base. you need to master the "download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen" flow and that is a hard one to master."

This made me think of how frequently we attribute success on mobile to downloads instead of monthly active users. From the beginning, Facebook focused on monthly active users instead of hits, pageviews, and numbers of posts and photos. On mobile, the story is far different. Companies and the press often talk about downloads, flips, check-ins or even activity among active users. They avoid discussing monthly active users. Why? By far, the biggest problem facing mobile companies today is retaining the users that download their applications. 

I returned to Fred’s post from July 2011 on user retention, noting that:

"I call this ratio 30/10/10 and so many services that we see exhibit it within a few percentage points here and there.

Here’s how it works: 30% of the registered users or number of downloads (if its a mobile app) will use the service each month

10% of the registered users or number of downloads (if its a mobile app) will use the service each day”

When I look at retention on mobile today, a 30% monthly active user rate is much higher than what publicly available data tells us:

Socialcam: In June, Socialcam had 83.6M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 4.3M. This is a decrease of 95% in 5 months.

Viddy: In June, Viddy had 20.9M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 660K. This a decrease of 97% in 5 months.

Draw Something: In April, Draw Something had 36.5M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 9.1M. This is a decrease of 75% in 7 months. 

Path: In December, Path had 250K monthly active users connected to Facebook. Almost one year later, they have about 780K monthly active users. While the 2.0 version of their app led to much initial growth, it seems that growth hasn’t affected churn. 

Every company in mobile wishes they had the retention rate of Instagram - but very few even whisper the words “monthly active users” to the outside world.  An app is only a long-press away from being dismissed to the second, third or fourth page of apps on a user’s device. How mobile companies aim to defeat the retention problem in a world of fickle social users will be their true test.

What were some major user privacy mistakes made by Facebook?

Answer by Cristina Cordova:

I researched privacy on Facebook heavily from January 2009 through May 2010   for a senior thesis (85 pages of which you can read here if you have lots of free time: The End of Privacy as We Know It?: The Ethics of Privacy on Online Social Networks (scribd.com)). Facebook made many mistakes in regards to user privacy, the most prominent being:

Poor Notification of Privacy Policy Changes:
When Facebook proposed a new version of its privacy policy, it expected users to vote and comment on the changes, yet it made it difficult for users to even find out that there were any proposed changes at all. Users had to go to their messages and then to their updates to find out that anything was changing whatsoever. Users were not alerted with an interstitial or even a notification from their main newsfeed.

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Contrast that with any Facebook product update, which receives a much more robust tutorial for users when they sign-in.

Complicated Profile Privacy User Experience:
In 2006, Zuckerberg said “This is the same reason we have built extensive privacy settings - to give you even more control over who you share information with”. Facebook’s robust privacy settings actually made it more difficult for users to execute this control. Take a look at the profile privacy settings from January 2010:

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Not quite as simple and easy as uploading a photo, is it? At the time, if a user wanted to block friends from seeing his photos, he would have to change the following settings: “photos and videos of me”, “photo albums” and “posts of me”. If a user selected custom privacy settings, he had the option of sharing information with specific friends or groups of friends, making the process even more complicated as one would have to set up and maintain specific lists or groups of friends who could see particular information. Adding buttons, toggles and drop-down menus only complicated the experience and left users feeling like they had very little control at all. This resulted in users leaving the settings to the default public option, which was in the best interests of Facebook, not its users.

Application Privacy Issues:
At one point, Facebook gave Zynga access to some (normally private) information from friends of friends of the users that played their games - a clear privacy issue as those users never authorized Zynga to have their information. This led to many of the spammy practices Zynga was known for in its early days.

Beacon:
In 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, an advertising system that send data from external webpages to Facebook. When users would purchase from Overstock, for example, a pop-up like the one below would appear saying that Overstock was sending your purchase information to Facebook:

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A user would have about ten seconds before the window would disappear. The information about the purchase would appear on a user’s Facebook wall. Facebook implemented this program as opt-out only. In 2008, a class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook and the third party companies who participated in the program as personal information about users was released to these companies without a user’s permission.

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Questions About People

When I think about whether I want to work with someone, I tend to contemplate the following questions:

1. Would I co-found a company with this person?

2. Would I come into the office knowing this person would be the only one there? 

3. Am I impressed by what this person has accomplished?

While it’s not always this simple, if a team can answer “yes” to all three of these questions, the person is typically a hire. 

Question: How does one generate leads at companies that might be partnership candidates without having an existing professional network at a company?

I wrote about this on Quora here, which may answer your question.

Question: Any advice for someone in QA who wants do move to biz dev?

If you’re working at a company in QA and you have an existing business development team, I’d suggest talking to your manager about taking on some new projects with the other team. If you’ve been performing well, your manager should want to keep you happy and help you learn new skills. From the perspective of the existing business development team, it may take awhile to get onboarded but I’m sure they would be happy to get some extra help. If you take on some projects in addition to your work in QA and perform well, it’s much more likely that they would consider you as a candidate for a full-time BD role. If not, take the skills you’ve learned and apply to BD roles outside of your company. 

If you don’t have a BD team in your current company, try to take on some roles outside of your company to help develop the skills you’ll need. Whether it’s volunteering, interning or working for free at a startup or another company that needs the help, take advantage of opportunities outside of your day job. I worked for free at the start of both my first startup internship and job. The company was able to learn more about me  and I was able to see if it was a good fit for me. 

Good luck!

Transparency in Startups

In startups, employees expect a level of transparency that doesn’t exist at large companies. At Apple, only the people who need to know are in the know about new products and sensitive internal company information. Contrasting this with a startup, team members are taking both a financial and career risk in joining and transparency makes employees feel secure in their risky decision. This starts with employees knowing where the company stands and it ends with knowing where the company is going.

Paul Graham says:

When we haven’t heard from, or about, a startup for a couple months, that’s a bad sign. If we send them an email asking what’s up, and they don’t reply, that’s a really bad sign. So far that is a 100% accurate predictor of death.

This applies to more than just popping up in the press every so often. If your employees and investors don’t know how things are going, it’s easy to lose that trust. Here are a few examples of company leaders investing in transparency: 

- Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, emailed all company employees and investors summarizing the company’s strategy and progress. Chris Dixon posted the letter with Jonah’s permission here. Jonah shows employees the “why” behind the viral cat memes and how that factors in to Buzzfeed’s evolution. 

- Bart and Andrew, the founders at Tapulous, reported exactly where the company needed to go to hit its revenue targets at its monthly all-hands meetings. Engineers, interns and designers were all focused on revenue growth. 

Pulse has a form in which any team member can ask anonymous questions and one of the founders will post a public response for the rest of the company to see.

Keen.io made its salary and equity compensation completely transparent by having one of its early employees write about her negotiation experience on the company blog.

- Emails at Stripe are copied to lists that go to either the entire company or to a particular team for the sake of transparency.

Transparency should exist to protect from fear, unite everyone toward a common goal and keep each piece of the puzzle operating efficiently together. 

If your team members find out about a new product the day it’s released, they might as well be at Apple. If your engineers have to wait for a yearly review period to give feedback to their managers, they might as well be at Google. Transparency is one security blanket that startups have to give and big companies tend to lose. 

Ways to Assess Business Development Candidates

I think the interview process alone can usually assess fit for the majority of business development roles. However, I usually prefer that a candidate do a project before they come in for a full day of interviews. If the project relates directly to what a candidate will be doing if hired, this helps 1) assess whether the candidate is serious about the company enough to put in some work and 2) allows the candidate to assess whether the work is something that suits his interests. 

As for questions to focus on in the interview process, I generally touch on:

How Does a Candidate Assess Opportunities: As a BD person, you’re presented with numerous deals to go after and you need to ensure you hire someone who will go after the *right* deals for your company.

1. What companies should we target for partnerships and why?

2. Tell me about a deal you walked away from at your last company and why.

3. How would you assess what deals we should spend other company resources on, if any?

How Does a Candidate Form a Process: A BD person can have hundreds of deals in play at one time. You need to understand how they stay organized with heavy dealflow at various stages.

1. Tell me what you would do in your first 30 days at our company.

2. Once a deal is signed, what happens? What would you like to happen?

3. How do you ensure that existing partners stick with you as our company grows?

How Convincing is a Candidate: BD is all about relationships - from forming them at early stages to nurturing them as they grow. 

1. How have you convinced an unwilling partner to work with you in the past?

2. What tools do you think we should have to better enable partnerships?

3. Let’s say I’m (X big potential partner). You’re our latest BD hire. Convince me to work with you.

I originally posted this as an answer on Quora.

Getting a Startup Job as a Non-Technical Person

I’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes for non-technical positions and am the first non-technical hire at Pulse. In looking for more non-technical people to join our team, I’ve found some common threads that hinder fantastic people in their job hunt. Before I begin, I’d caution that you should not want to work at just any startup, but one that suits your skills and interests. If you can’t be passionate about one or a few startups, it’s unlikely that you can make it for the long haul. Here are some tips on getting the job once you know what you’re looking for:

1. Explain what you’ve accomplished, not what you’ve managed: I often see that people emphasize “managing” rather than “doing” on their resumes and cover letters. I could care less that you managed a team of five marketing people. I’d rather see examples of the  marketing materials you worked on and what effects your work had on sign-ups and overall company growth. Most startups are not looking for early non-technical hires to manage people. Instead, they’re looking for fantastic individual contributors that can set a direction and execute (and maybe manage people when the time comes). 

2. Explain why you want to work at the startup you’re applying to: Surprisingly, many candidates often explain that they want to work at “a small startup” because they will have “impact and room for personal growth”. I could care less that you want to work for a startup. Why do you want to work for our startup? If all small startups look the same to you because you feel like a cog at {insert big company name here}, do your research and save yourself some time. All startups are not the same and you won’t get the opportunity to work at one if you treat them as such. 

3. Show a startup what you’ll do for them: It’s fairly easy to tell whether technical team members are performing ( i.e. are they committing clean code? ).  It takes much longer to tell whether you’ve hired a bad business development person or PR rep. At Pulse, we ask all non-technical hires to complete a project of some kind. For a community manager, this project could be creating a user survey on a recent product update. For a business development manager, it could be articulating a value proposition and finding target partners for the launch of a new product. To clear any doubts about whether you can actually accomplish what you say you will, take the lead on a project you would like to own at a startup you’re interested in. This will give you insight on whether you like the job you might land and show you can get stuff done.

4. Do your research: When interviewing at a startup, you should know about every  completed product and feature release. If you’re interviewing for a marketing role, you should know how a company marketed its last release and you should have ideas for improvement. Nothing kills an interview faster than being on a phone screen with a candidate who says “I downloaded your app for the first time yesterday” or “Oh, you guys have an integration with Nike already?”. No matter what space the company your interviewing with is in, you should learn as much as you can about the industry. While domain expertise isn’t always necessary, a startup should be able to tell if you have the skills to figure it out on your own without significant hand-holding. 

5. Above all else, be passionate: More than anything else, show passion in everything you do. Take time to compose a personalized thank you email after your interview. Request detailed referrals from friends or colleagues of team members at the startup you applied to. Show your excitement about a startup’s problems and how you can be part of the team that solves them. You can’t teach passion.