You Don’t Have To Be A Geek To Make It In Tech
The tech scene is red-hot and the proliferation of start-ups is attracting people with all sorts of skills. Is there room for those who don’t have an engineering or tech background, but still want to get in on the next Facebook?
Absolutely, say recruiters and industry professionals. Here’s the ultimate guide to the positions available at start-ups if your interests and skills go beyond coding.
You can have the best engineers in the world, but the start-up isn’t going anywhere if you don’t have people pounding the pavement looking for partnerships and funding. That’s where business development comes in. The job description is loosely defined, but can include working on growth strategies and developing clientele.
Michael Hershfield, 31, is the executive vice president of corporate development and strategy at Sailthru, a New York-based behavior analytics site that gives recommendations for e-commerce and publisher clients. There are three people on his team out of the company’s 70 employees.
“We decide where we’re going to open new offices, how we make acquisitions and how to develop more clients,” he said. His team is leading the charge in partnering with incubators like Betaworks. Sailthru gives companies like Betaworks free services when they’re in their early-stages so as to help craft a relationship for down the road.
David Dowd, vice president of the brands group at FanBridge, a New York-based fan management website for celebrities and athletes, has five people reporting to him. “We need people who have relationships, experience and are able to bring in revenue,” he says. The team wants to hire five more employees. Dowd looks at education and experience when hiring and says it helps to have a sales background. For a leadership role, he’s looking for 10 years of experience. For account management roles, he wants five years of experience.
“Engineering is a really important aspect, but you also need to get those first dollars,” he says. “That will be critical to getting more investment and proving the business model.”
While you must know what your start-up actually does so you can woo clients, you don’t need to know the in-depth software component. Instead, you’ll need to be an aggressive salesperson, says Joanna Bradley, an IT sales and marketing recruitment manager at Hailey, Idaho-based recruitment firm Redfish Technology.
Start-ups are looking for personality in junior sales roles and people who can think long-term about drumming up new business and closing it. Your duties may include cold-calling and getting prospective leads.
Start-ups will want to see successful quota achievements when hiring more experienced salespeople. You should be able to lay out your quota achievements in an easy-to-read format, advises Bradley, showing that last year you made 98% of quota, for example, and another year you made 150%. Also ask your clients to serve as references.
A typical sales career path upon graduating college might go something like this: inside salesperson where your deals are done over the phone, outside sales where your title would be account executive, then senior account executive, some sort of management title, director, then ultimately a vice president title. The final step may take between 15 and 20 years from when you started, according to Bradley.
A start-up can be doing life-changing things, but if no one knows about it, it will go nowhere. Enter the marketing people, who are responsible for public awareness about just how great your start-up is.
If you’re just graduating and want to go into marketing, you should have a degree in business, marketing, communications or public relations so you know the fundamentals, says Bradley of Redfish Technology. You’ll improve your chances substantially of getting a job if you get internships while in college.
Elizabeth Walton, 24, is a marketing manager at Stamped, a New York-based social curation app that offers recommendations on restaurants, books, music and others to users from their friends. With a background in digital communications for big consumer brands, Walton is responsible for community management for the start-up, coordinating social channels like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. She tweets with people who have used Stamped and also goes to events to pump up the app.
Out of the 10 people at the company, two are business-focused, including Walton.
“Ideally you want to hire someone with a background in subscriber marketing,” says Catherine Levene, co-founder of Artspace, a New York-based e-commerce marketplace for fine art. “Or a customer acquisition marketer. I like to see two or three years of experience for that role.” Levene is planning to add to her marketing team, she added.
A customer acquisition marketer’s job is to drive registration to a site, says Josh Stomel, co-founder of Neohire, a Los Angeles-based talent recruiter that specializes in recruiting for digital media and privately-held Internet companies. It’s a mathematical role that’s predicated on someone having knowledge from building their own websites or driving traffic and registration.
“This person will work closely with the design team to figure out the best way to drive consumers to the site,” he sad.
The most requested non-tech role right now at his firm is a user-interface or user-experience designer, says Stomel of Neohire. Start-ups need people who have a design background who can design a website or product, he said. He’s seen a 100% increase in demand for these types of roles over the past year because of the explosion in the number of start-ups, all of which need this function.
“You want consumers to stay on the website,” Stomel said. To do that, the web designer will utilize Adobe Photoshop to outline what they think the site should look like, then hand the prototype over to a front-end developer to code it.
Designers should have backgrounds at large, consumer-facing websites that are well-constructed.
“If a designer from Craigslist applied, I would laugh,” says Stomel, because the site is noticeably minimalist.
Undergraduates should focus on building up their portfolio of web samples by getting an internship or junior designer role.
Brooke Stoddard, the creative director and vice president of business development at Project Décor, a membership website that allows you to virtually design a room, then buy the pieces, originally had a design background from publishing, having worked at House & Garden and at Harper’s Bazaar magazines in design capacities.
Stoddard, 42, joined her start-up in November 2011 and now works with the design team to figure out what the site should look like. “We constantly ask ourselves, ‘What is appealing to the customer?’,” she said.
No matter what the focus of the start-up is, there’s likely to be some text on the site. And that text needs to read perfectly so consumers and clients aren’t scared off by bad grammar (think about it: would you trust a site that doesn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”?) To make sure the copy is spic-and-span, CEOs will usually hire an editorial staff.
Artspace, has brought on two employees and a few freelance writers who produce the content for the website, which includes artist biographies, information about the artwork itself, information about collecting and arts new, says Levene. Those people will also send out emails to go out to the site’s members.
“We look for someone who has been writing about art, who has an art education,” said Levene. “They need to be a very good writer and have typical computer skills.” – Originally posted on FINS from the Wall Street Journal by Julie Steinberg