Nontechnical Hustling in the #Wilderness

During my #wilderness period, I was approached by many who were also in the #wilderness looking for direction. I don’t really understand why they would have approached me. Perhaps they were tricked into thinking I had figured something out, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Perhaps they thought I knew something because I was writing about it on TechCrunch. I still don’t get it, but I was always happy to return any genuinely crafted email request with my raw feedback, for better or worse.

In the summer of 2011, my friend @jamesrapoport from Livestream in NYC sent me an email to help this kid @vjtorres11. Somehow over one email, Victor persuaded me to have a quick phone call — and I hate the phone. Victor was just out of school and looking to get into startups. I could tell he was polite, thoughtful, and very hungry — and he also understood that because he wasn’t technical, he’d have to cut his teeth a bit and pick a focus to add value right away. I gave him advice that’s hard to give: Basically, if you’re young, nontechnical, and don’t have relevant experience, to get into an early stage startup requires a different type of risk — you probably have to be willing to work for free. And, even if you perform, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the job.

Immediately, Victor agreed. So, surprised, I made some calls and put out the word on Twitter. My friend Rohit, CEO of Syfto, contacted me and said he’d be interested in having Victor try his hands at some light web analytics and marketing. After a few weeks, Syfto contracted with Victor and he worked there a few months. He eventually realized that he was young and wanted to live in San Francisco, so instead of continuing his commute down to the Valley, he was able to land a real job with Zaarly, an up-and-coming company with lots of buzz around it. Throughout the whole time, Victor always sent me pertinent updates, asked for advice in the most polite way, and found himself in another good position, riding the wave.

Victor’s recent story is a case study for what hungry, nontechnical people need to do to crack into the ambiguous early-stage startup world. Perhaps what inspired me so much about Victor — and why I root hard for him — is that I was taking the medicine at the same time I was doling it out. It was pretty bitter, let me say. Victor always emailed me to tell me “thanks,” but I’m sure I learned more from him than he learned from me. Make sure you keep an eye on @vjtorres11 — I’d love to work with him some day.