Making It In Silicon Valley When You Have Zero Connections

Ramit Sethi, the personal finance guru and master of behavioral psychology, has a new course he’s putting together on his site, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.  His new material is all centered around readers finding their dream job.

I’ve long been a big fan of Ramit, from his blog to his book to reading his newsletter and even being a premium subscriber to his Earn 1K course.  I’ve never been one to pay for self-help courses. I happen to think most people who are selling how easy building your own business is and that you should “never work for an evil bovine master” are completely full of shit.  Entrepreneurship is hard.  Damn hard.  Most self-help people are selling feel good bullshit that’s been poorly researched and backed by pseudo-science and anecdotal evidence.  I’m a salesman and a hustler to my core… you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

Ramit’s work is another beast entirely.  The work he puts out is incredibly detailed, researched, and thorough.  Although I was extremely reluctant to give the man any money for more, higher quality material (an understatement to say the least), his work really is that good.  Now, it’s finally time for me to pay it forward so to speak to give back to those trying to make it an industry and find their dream job with no connections… just like I did.  And yes, I’m more than willing to admit right here in full view of the world that I have paid for quality courses to improve myself… have you?

Background

The time was April 2010, I was four months into what I thought was my dream job.  Before I got my Sales gig at the large software company I was renting cars making $12.50 an hour. Now that I had my “academy” sales gig I thought I was big time.  I had a nice corporate gig and a much, much higher paycheck.  Then a tsunami in the workplace hit us all to our core: A new round of layoffs to start the new fiscal year (we were on a April to April fiscal calendar).  All three people I worked for got laid-off.  I still had a job, but knew that one day I could very well be the next to be laid-off.

Since I still had my job (at least until the next round of layoffs) I used all of my downtime to learn as much as I can about technology.  In my free time, I would read everything about technology that I could get my hands on: TechCrunch, Hacker News, Silicon Alley Insider, and countless tech blogs.  I still liked the line of work I was in, but was clueless what I would do next if I lost my job.

Recognizing Opportunity and Sizing The Moment

After a long, miserable summer of 2010 in my cubicle hellhole… not knowing when the next round of layoffs were coming, I signed-up for Ramit’s Earn 1K course in late August 2010.  I think I was still going through the preview course info or one of the first lessons when Ramit’s course had me do an “Idea Generator” about finding a business to start on the side.  I remember filling it out on the things that interested me and writing down what I did in my freetime and things I enjoyed.  Then it hit me:  I still loved technology, startups, and media.  I needed to find a job at a startup.

Then I realized that I needed to leave Houston to move to Silicon Valley.  I still love Houston to my core, my family and friends still live there, and I still watch my beloved Houston Cougars on Saturdays (#8 in the nation).  But I needed to be where the action is and where startups are… and that meant I needed to move to the Mecca for startups in Silicon Valley.

Thus concludes the first lesson: A hustler must be able to recognize opportunity when it arises and capitalize on it when it presents itself.

A Hustler Is Always Prepared

I wanted to quit my job right away, but I was (and still am) engaged to a lovely girl who at the time was an undergrad at UH.  So, we soon talked it over and made plans to move to Silicon Valley in May 2011 once she graduated from UH.  In the meantime, I would start saving my money religiously and do as much research as possible about startups and Silicon Valley.  I spent even more time devouring posts on TechCrunch and Hacker News and countless blogs from people in the industry.

While most people would waste their time Facebooking and Twittering, watching television, and going out and drinking three times a week, I spent my free time doing as much research as possible about the industry.  That’s how I was able to judge that I was making the right choice in my career:  I found it interesting enough to spend my free time learning more about it… without any external motivators.

Lesson #2: If you want to be successful, you have to know as much as possible about your hustle, your trade…. and know the industry you’re working in.  A hustler must be prepared at all times.

Niche Thyself

Once I made it to Silicon Valley in May of 2011, I had absolutely zero connections.  I didn’t have a job lined up.  I was living off of savings.  I was doing interviews at several different tech companies but not entirely sure what I was looking for, other than a job at a tech company to stop the bleeding in my bank account (it’s a little expensive to live in the Bay Area if you didn’t know).

I remember one of my interviews with another nameless large enterprise software company dealing with the arrogance of the recruiter.  I was already fed up at this point with dealing with stupid corporate people after the 17 months I spent in my last job:  The company had just quit was doing their second round of layoffs right as I quit my job in March.

In April, one month before I moved to the Bay Area, I was out here for another interview when I happened to see a post on Hacker News for job at Loopt when I cold emailed Loopt CEO & Founder Sam Altman.  I scored an interview at his company… and while I didn’t end up getting the job Sam himself came out and introduced himself and shook my hand.  I was floored.  Here was a badass entrepreneur that I admired greatly and he took the time to come out and shake my hand.

Thinking that moment over in my head and thinking about the arrogance of the recruiter at the large corporate company, I decided then and there my litmus test for finding a job in Silicon Valley: The Sam Altman Startup Test.  If the CEO of the company can’t at minimum at least come out and shake my hand during my interview at the company, it’s too big to be considered a startup and is now a full blown company (probably with shitty org charts).  If I wanted to work at a startup and work alongside the entrepreneur running that startup, they’d have to pass my new Sam Altman Startup Test.  Yup, it’s kinda corny, but it’s very specific and defines the niche of the type of job I wanted… to work for an entrepreneur and learn how to run a startup.

Too many people don’t have a clue what they want or what type of job they want.  Nobody can help you if you don’t know what you want.  You have to define what you want.  It’s actually a bit easier that you’d think.  For me, even though I didn’t know specifically what type of tech startup I wanted to work for, I knew specific things would make a role perfect for me:

  • No middle-managers/pointy-haired bosses.  I decided I’m only worked for the person who has the final word on all decisions… the Entrepreneur.
  • No dress code
  • No org charts:  a flat organizational structure.
  • No 9-5.  Give me the work and tell me what needs to be done and let me do it.  I don’t function mentally in a 9-5 box.
  • And for the love of all that is Holy, no cubicles.

Lesson #3:  Read Jason Freedmans’ kick ass blog post about hustling called, “You Don’t Get Shit You Don’t Ask For.”  Notice how at the bottom he says not to ask for general advice.  Get specific.  Be the same way in your job search and when you tell people you’re looking for a job.  After meeting Sam, I started telling everyone I met that I was looking for a job, and being specific: “I’m looking to work at a startup where I can work with the CEO and where I, at minimum, shake the CEO’s hand during the interview.”  That narrows it down quite a bit.  Fucking get specific.

Find a Mentor. Tell Everyone You Meet That You’re Looking For a Job

Find someone who’s working at a similar job that you want and/or working in your desired industry.  Reach out to them and ask for advice.  Don’t pull the, “Let me buy you a coffee and pick your brain” shtick.  Honestly, you’re wasting people’s fucking time.  But, if you can email them a short email asking for some very specific advice or a very specific question you can learn more about the industry you work in while building your network with a future peer.  I did this and score both some cool industry peers as well as a few interviews.

Then, be sure you’re telling everyone you come in contact with that you’re looking for a job.  Remember, its’ estimated that as much as 80% of all jobs are filled in the informal job market.  I was reading a kick ass blog post by Jason Shen, who frequently gets his posts upvoted to the front page of Hacker News.  The post was called, “Winning Isn’t Normal.”  It blew me away.  Jason soon started a mailing list and I eagerly signed-up for more sweet blog posts like that one.

In a short period of time after joining Jason’s mailing list, we started emailing back and forth and I mentioned that I had just moved to Mountain View and was looking for a job.  He soon got back to me and mentioned that his boss, John Ramey of isocket had seen my LinkedIn profile and liked my resume and wanted to interview me.

Within a few weeks I was working for isocket.  It was perfect timing because Jason was leaving to join his own startup as a co-founder and be part of the summer Y Combinator class of 2011 to found Ridejoy.

isocket is the perfect job for me:  a ten person startup in Burlingame and I get to work alongside the CEO John Ramey.  And of course he passed the Sam Altman Test with flying colors: Not only did he shake my hand when I came to interview, he interviewed me himself for two hours.

Lesson #4: Ask for very specific advice from people doing the type of work you want to do and mentors.  Also, tell everyone you meet what type of job you want.

Be Fucking Tenacious & Brazen

The last lesson is probably the most important:  Be tenacious.  Other people will tell you that your ideas are no good and that your goals are impossible.  Well you know what?  Fuck them.  Seriously, cut them out of your life.

I also can’t tell you how many people told me that moving out here was “ballsy” or whatever.  I’ll never understand how so many can sit still in life and not push themselves forward.  I always have to be pushing myself for bigger and better things.  If betting on oneself is “ballsy” or “risky” or whatever, then you’ve got a problem.  You should be able to risk everything and bet on yourself and know that 10 times out of 10 that you’ll come out on top.

Most people don’t return emails.  Follow-up.  Call people a few days after you send them and email with your resume.  Send a handwritten thank you note.

You have to take rejection and it has to fuel you.  It has to light a fire inside of you to push yourself harder and get brazen.  Make people take notice.  I can’t tell you how many times I got kicked to the curb, how many times I failed.

Conclusion

You may not know exactly what you want, but keep your eyes open for new opportunities.  I could’ve wallowed in self-pity when there were two rounds of layoffs in my corporate sales gig, but I didn’t.  I keep my eyes open and kept looking for new opportunities.  A hustler never rests.

When the light bulb went on in my head thanks to Ramit’s courses, I begun the process of defining specifically the type of job I wanted over the course of several months and interviews.  I didn’t just interview aimlessly, I eventually got very specific about what I wanted out of a job.

In the end, I got the job I wanted only a month after moving to Silicon Valley.  If I can do this shit, you can too.

Now get out there and hustle!

PS:  Hit me up on LinkedIn and tell me you found me through this post.

Edit: I mistakenly spelled Jason Freedman’s name wrong.  My humblest apologies to Jason.

10 thoughts on “Making It In Silicon Valley When You Have Zero Connections

  1. Very good stuff Weston! I suppose i’m in my little phase of learning everything I can about the market I want to get into – a bit like yours it has something to do with startups.

    With less than a year left at University i’m consuming everything I can that has to do with selling, negotiation, and product creation. I, too, like Ramit’s courses, and in fact LOVE his indirect information I get from him (trolling his Delicious account: where I found plenty of golden nuggets that have helped me)

    Either way, amazing post with great success to you. If you don’t mind answering a question I have about the emailing part of your post. When I send e-mails to people I would like to meet, I usually do the “would you like to sit for coffee” routine. Respectfully, I have gotten at least one yes. What do you send in an email? Is it specifically information or question about his/her startup, or is it a general question about the field he/she is in?

    1. Thanks for the note Geoffrey!

      Coffee isn’t always a bad idea, if you can meet someone at their location and only take up 15 minutes of their time you may be able to get the meeting. There’s no right answer on how to meet people, it’s an art not a science.

      The best thing I can tell you is to find a great reason for them to want to meet with you. Everyone who is someone gets hit by people who want to suck up their time. The question you have to ask yourself is, “How am I different from everyone else?” I can’t answer that for you, but when you have a great answer about what makes you different it should give you an idea how you want to approach it.

      Don’t forget, as I said above, to be specific. If you were to seek out a mentor in your field, don’t just spray and pray. Do your homework and reach out to someone who is doing exactly or almost exactly what you want to be doing one day.

  2. Good work getting picked up on Hacker News!

    As someone trying to break his way into SV as an entrepreneur without any network connections, this post really resonated with me. Have you (or any of your readers) had any experiences that might provide wisdom on how to work one’s way toward funding without having any connections to begin with?

    1. Thanks for the note Jordan!

      As far as getting funding, it all seems to come down to social proof: Do investors know you? Do you have traction for your startup/product/app? Those questions are rhetorical, but they seem to be the biggest questions that investors want to know.

      I don’t have a concrete path to get funding (I haven’t tried funding a startup myself), but it seems if you can find a way to answer yes to either or both of the questions I posted about social proof you’ll find investors.

      Get out there and hustle and let everyone know about your startup and get traction. Investors will come from good traction.

  3. This is just the beginning of the journey and I’m sure with your great attitude and hustle you’ll continue to find success here in Silicon Valley. Keep up the good work Weston and nice job on sharing your lessons with others!

  4. Impressive, very good takeaways. Right now, I’m in that phase where I trying to find a focus. I actually have a couple proven startup ideas, but need to build a team and take action – keep pushing through setbacks or nay-sayers.

  5. Why would someone choose to move to Silicon Valley to become successful? I don’t see many successful people in the Bay Area. Just a lot of bloggers and poor coders blathering about changing the world. Computers and technology just make most people lazy and artificial.

    Why pretend to work hard starting up a company? Just get a real job and chill out. It’s not like corporate jobs are difficult to master. Each manager is more incompetent than the next. Anyone with an IQ over 80 can milk a corporate job by doing the bare minimum and pulling in 60k-100k with ease.

    Smarten up, people.

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