Breakout Career Philosophy
Some things to consider.
Advice from Joe Lonsdale
Joe is a co-founder of Palantir, and a co-founding partner of Formation 8
If you're really good at what you do, and you want to buy a nice house, you have to invest well. Your main investment at 22 is your time... that's the only investment that matters. I'd argue you should take a longer view and make sure you're also learning as much as you can the next five years. Fortunately you can probably do both by joining a young hyper - growth business that has lots of top people in it, and pushing for low salary and high equity. There is a comfortable myth among naive outsiders that everything here is a crap shoot and people like my friends and I just keep getting lucky lots of times in a row. There are probably lots of psychological reasons they need to believe this. And maybe they are right and there are similarly strong psychological reasons why it'd be hard for me to accept that some of my friends and I who have been involved in several big wins are just the luckiest people vs having a good strategy or some other insight about what's working.
But I think if you are able to join a company right now like Radius or Addepar or Illumio or many others, and get a little real upside over the next five years, there is a very good chance you can afford a good house afterwards - and also that you'll have learned enough to know how the top companies are built and have a lot of great options as to what you do next for yourself and the world. If you don't join a top growth company that's your own choice - some people might love majoring and teaching an obscure and fascinating subject with no obvious applications and the more power to them if it's their passion - to me that's the analogous choice as working at 80% of the companies I see in SV. And maybe you are comfortable at a giant company - that's cool but unless you are able to politically climb, it won't get you a house in a short period and in my opinion won't teach you as much. Do what you're passionate about... but if you want that nice house and bigger impact, get upside in a younger hyper growth company with about 10 to 400 people that has the best people and is changing a real industry.
- Joe Lonsdale 1
Advice from Elad Gil
Elad is the founder of Color Genomics, and an active angel
Factors to overeight:
2. Market and Growth Rate
Factors that don't matter as much as you think:
If you plan to work in tech, move to Silicon Valley. The set of opportunities and networks out here are much stronger. If you do not go to Silicon Valley, go to New York.
- Elad Gil 2
Advice from Sam Altman
Sam is the President of Y Combinator
If you join a company, my general advice is to join a company on a breakout trajectory. There are a usually a handful of these at a time, and they are usually identifiable to a smart young person. They are a very good risk/reward tradeoff. Such a company is almost certainly going to be successful, but the rest of the world isn’t quite as convinced of it as they should be. Fortunately, these companies love ambitious young people. In addition to the equity being a great deal (you might get 1/10th of the equity you’d get if you going a tiny new startup, but at 1/100th or 1/1000th of the risk), you will work with very good people, learn what success looks like, and get a W on your record (which turns out to be quite valuable). Spending a few years at a company that fails has path consequences, and working at an already-massively-successful company means you will learn much less, and probably work with less impressive people.
- Sam Altman 3
Advice from Andy Rachleff
Andy is the Executive Chairman of Wealthfront, a Lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and an Alumni Partner at Benchmark Capital
I prefer to see them take their first jobs after graduation at midsized companies with momentum, not startups, because they are the companies most likely to be big successes.
Why is success so important? You get more credit than you deserve for being part of a successful company, and less credit than you deserve for being part of an unsuccessful company. Success will help propel your career. At a fast-growing company, chances are good you’ll have a higher position two years after you join. At a slow-growth company, no matter how good a job you do, you won’t have the same opportunities to advance.
When it comes time to leave the successful company, you’ll be able to write your own ticket. No one will remember if you were employee 20 or 120. Everyone wants to recruit or back people from successful companies because they know/think people carry the lessons of success with them.
All our advice on Silicon Valley careers is based on a simple idea: that your choice of company trumps everything else. It’s more important than your job title, your pay or your responsibilities.
- Andy Rachleff 4 5
Advice from Dustin Moskovitz
Dustin is a co-founder of Asana, and is a co-founder of Facebook
You believe you’re extremely talented and that [starting your own company] is the way to maximize your financial return on that talent. Why wouldn’t you want more of the cap table? This is flawed logic, since the 100th engineer at Facebook made far more money than 99% of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Small slices of gigantic pies are still themselves gigantic. If you’re extremely talented, you can easily identify a company with high growth potential and relatively low risk and get an aggressive compensation package from them. If you turn out to be wrong after a few years, you can try again. Within 2 or 3 tries, and likely on the first one, you’ll have a great outcome and can be confident you contributed serious lasting value to the world. If you instead try to immediately start “the next Google or Facebook”, there is a very high likelihood that you will fail completely, or be forced to settle for a much smaller outcome. It will take a long time to reach success or failure, so you won’t have many tries.
- Dustin Moskovitz 6 7
Advice from Marc Andreessen
Marc is a co-founder of Netscape, Loudcloud/Opsware, and is a co-founding partner of Andreessen Horowitz
Never worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Being a big fish in a small pond sucks – you will hit the ceiling on what you can achieve quickly, and nobody will care. Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.
Apply this rule when selecting which company to go to. Go to the company where all the action is happening.
In a rapidly changing field like technology, the best place to get experience when you’re starting out is in younger, high-growth companies.
(This is not necessarily true in older and more established industries, but those aren’t the industries we’re talking about.)
There are a bunch of great things that you get when you go to a younger, high-growth company:
You’ll get to do lots of stuff. There will be so much stuff to do in the company that you’ll be able to do as much of it as you can possibly handle. Which means you’ll gain skills and experience very quickly.
You’ll probably get promoted quickly. Fast-growing companies are characterized by a chronic lack of people who can step up to all the important new leadership jobs that are being created all the time. If you are aggressive and performing well, promotions will come quickly and easily.
You’ll get used to being in a high-energy, rapidly-changing environment with sharp people and high expectations. It’s like training for a marathon while wearing ankle weights – if you ever end up going to a big company, you’ll blow everyone away. And if you ever go to a startup, you’ll be ready for the intensity.
Reputational benefit. Having Silicon Graphics from the early 90’s, or Netscape from the mid-90’s, or eBay from the late 90’s, or Paypal from the early 00’s, or Google from the mid-00’s on your resume is as valuable as any advanced degree – it’s a permanent source of credibility.
In contrast to going to a big company: working for a big company teaches you how to work for big companies. The way things work at a big company is usually unique to big companies. So, working for a big company is often a statement that you plan to spend your career at big companies – and lots of people are very happy doing that, but I doubt that’s your intention or you wouldn’t be reading this post.
In contrast to going to a startup: when you are first starting your career, you should realize that raw startups are highly variable in terms of the experiences you will have. Some can be great, but many are very poorly managed and go nowhere. You will probably be better off going somewhere that’s already succeeding, gain skills and experience, and then go to a startup.
In contrast to going to a mediocre small or mid-sized company that’s not growing: those are great places to go if you don’t want to go anywhere yourself. If you find yourself stuck in one, either figure out how to get the company unstuck and on a fast growth path, or get yourself unstuck.
There is a caveat to all this, which is as follows:
Don’t just be a “summertime soldier” – don’t go someplace because it’s already successful, and then bail when things get tough.
Any hiring manager for the rest of your career will be able to read that on your resume just by looking at the dates.
High-growth companies virtually always hit speed bumps, or even huge potholes. Stuff goes wrong. Going through the experience of gutting through the hard parts and coming out the other end will be a key part of your real-world education and will serve you very well down the road, especially if you ever start your own company.
Then, once you’ve racked up killer skills and experiences at a high-growth company, feel free to go to a startup.
Picking which startup to join probably deserves its own post. However, in a nutshell, look for one where you understand the product, see how it might fit into a very large market, and really like and respect the people who are already there.
Or, start your own company.
If your startup fails, try another one. If that one fails, get back into a high-growth company to reset your resume and get more skills and experiences. Then start another company. Repeat as necessary until you change the world.
- Marc Andreessen 8
Advice from Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt
Sheryl is the COO of Facebook, and Eric is the executive chairman of Google
After awhile I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, so I made a spreadsheet. I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage? And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies.
So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spread sheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot. Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.
- Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt 9