April 2009 Archives

Tim Stutts is a graduate of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, where his thesis project involved designing and programming a neighborhood mapping application for children. Drawing on his previous background in film sound, he now creates immersive user experiences in software. His UI work extends to everything from museums to enterprise offerings. For examples of his work, please visit www.sound-interactions.com.

1. What did you used to do in the corporate environment and what is your
position now in the startup industry?


My previous job was working as a User Interaction Designer for a large, enterprise software company.  Some companies might also call this position User Experience Designer.  I would talk to my team product managers and fellow designers to determine key UI issues, and then design usability tests to try to capture specific details from our users. 

My current position is User Interaction Engineer for a very small company that is centered around event-based micro-messaging.  The job title reflects both the design process and technical execution of designs into working prototypes that eventually become the product. There are limited resources for creating design review documents and specs. Instead the process becomes consolidated to conversations, sketches and execution.

2. What do you feel are the biggest differences between corporate and
startup life?


One big difference is the specialization of roles.  In a larger
software companies, you find people working in a very specific capacity--a designer might become an expert around the UI Design of a certain application or even a feature set within that application.  In a startup people wear many hats and work fast. You may design a site one week, code it up the next week, and then work on a proof-of-concept video for your offering the following week.  A junior to mid-level designer might also code, become involved in marketing, or get involved in recruiting.  In the larger companies, the people who choose to wear many hats are usually senior-level, since the offerings and processes are much more complicated.  Also, startups may pay less in terms of monetary compensation, but can provide early employees with stock options, and fast promotions, should the product take off.  There's a greater risk, but the rewards are potentially greater.

4. Based on your first impressions of your new job, what stands out to you
as the best reason to work for a startup?


Being able to shape the product at an early stage, without a lot strict formalities and handshakes.  It's very rewarding.  You feel personally invested in the process.

5. Do you have any advice for people facing a similar decision that you
faced: corporate or startup?


If the job is your first one out of school, and involves relocation of your life, home, and personal things, a corporate gig may be a good choice, as your job is usually more stable.  There is a more gradual on-boarding process for new hires.  Start-ups can be great too, if you find the right team and offering, and are prepared to work late hours to get things underway.  Your placement in either job situation is likely to be based on a common connection or personal recommendation, so establishing those is key.  Also, if you've just left school, there
will likely be a lot of progressive ideas about your area of study that are fresh in memory.
If you were preaching them back then, going anywhere--either corporate or startup--will likely involve putting these ideas to test. Some of these ideas will fly on the job, and others won't, but don't let the uncertainty stop you from being bold and sharing what you've learned with your team.

6. What would be your one (or multiple, if you have some!) piece of advice
for people trying to get a job at a startup?


- Work on becoming well-rounded.  In a startup it's more about the breadth of your skills than the depth, though it may be important for you to have depth in certain areas that compliment the abilities of your team.  If for instance you have previous experience in interaction design, learn to code in a couple languages.  If you are an engineer, read up on user experience.
- Stay on top of the current trends and technologies that relate to the areas in which you are interested in or claim to be an expert.
- Working for a big company beforehand can give you some credibility. People trying to staff up for start-up positions are often eager to soak up the lessons you've learned from working on a much larger offerings.
- Finally, If you are a designer or have an interest in design, subscribe to the blog Designing Possibilities.  We're trying to inform people about career-related decisions, such as this one.  I'm an active participant in this effort.
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary of working with techVenture, my first job after moving to Silicon Valley. Moving here, I knew Silicon Valley was full of opportunities at tech companies: Apple, Google, Yahoo, Sun, Oracle. The big guys. But, I hadn't thought too much about the fabulous life of the Silicon Valley startup.  

When I met with Fadi Bishara, our Founder and CEO, to talk about coming on board as an admin, I knew two things: 1. I loved the web and all things technology and 2. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  

I knew this was a different world on my first day on the job. I met Fadi in Palo Alto to drive up to Bebo's office, where they were about to have their company wide meeting to discuss the future of the company now that they'd been bought by AOL for $850M. Since that first day, my role has evolved and I've learned a lot, but here are five things that I think have stood out the most in my first year in Silicon Valley:

1. Anyone with a dream can be an entrepreneur.

Regardless of their age or background. People flock to the Valley because it's better to fail here than it is to fail anywhere else. However, those who succeed, tend to do so with radical success. Which is why...

2. All startups are not created equal.  

In Guy Kawasaki's book The Art of the Start, he states that great companies do one of three things.
    1.    Increase the quality of life.  (I would file games and entertainment in this category)
    2.    Right a wrong.
    3.    Prevent the end of something good.
Without pointing any fingers, I'll say that I have come across far too many startups that either don't do any of the three things mentioned or just copy someone else's idea in a "me too" attempt.  

3. Venture Capital, Angel Investors, Incubators, Bootstrapping

This was one of the most foreign concepts to me when I started working with startups. I had a vague understanding of private investing, but here in the Valley there are specific names and companies to learn about and draw connections. I'll admit that I'm still learning and therefore won't go into the differences or definitions, but I will share this: Never try to explain to your grandparents in Indiana that you work with Angel and VC funded startups in the web 2.0 space and expect them to understand a word you just said.  

4. Your network is everything.

Living in New York, I met a lot of interesting people, but here in the Valley, each and every one of those people is a potential business connection. Follow up, have coffee, meet for a cocktail and add to your LinkedIn network.   

5. As much as we don't want to admit it. Blogs matter, a lot. (And for that matter, so does Twitter.)

Get Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Michael Arrington or Kevin Rose to mention you and see what happens to your Google Analytics, and then tell me that bloggers don't matter.

At techVenture, we specialize in matching up the right candidates for early stage startups. We are acutely aware that in the beginning stages of a startup, the team that is chosen directly influences their future success.

Here at the techVenture blog, we are going to be talking about what it takes to build a successful startup. The infancy stages of a startup are its most crucial times. This blog will be a place for us to discuss recruitment, investment, and other techniques that have worked and continue to work for startups.

It is our hope that you join our discussion and share your feedback and testimonials about what works and doesn't work in relation to startups. Please suggest topic ideas or submit questions, so that we can provide an area of value to you and others who are passionate about innovation.

We look forward to hearing your opinions and having conversations with you about the future of the startup community.

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