Alex's Tech Thoughts

Can’t Knock the Hustle: The First Steps To Breaking Into Startups

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Dwolla Biz Dev Intern, Brian Kil, has put together a Skillshare class called “Can’t Knock the Hustle: The First Steps To Breaking Into Startups.”

Brian’s story is a good one and if there is someone who can talk about the persistence and determination behind getting in the startup space, it is him.

I’ll be taking the class and I recommend you sign up as well. Only 10 slots are left so sign up now.

In other Skillshare news: I’ll be teaching a Hybrid online class after SXSW this year. It will all be online and you can take an updated Introduction I to Biz Dev and Partnerships at a startup from anywhere in the world. Stay tuned.

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Two Basic Skills You Can Learn In College That You Need To Succeed

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Two skills learned in college can be honed for the startup workplace. They are, in no order of importance: how to ask good questions and how to effectively communicate.

Asking Good Questions
I am constantly impressed with individuals who ask the right questions. With every field there are thought-provoking questions that the other side can ask showing that they “get” it. In college, ask many questions of your teachers, peers, etc. It’s awesome because you can ask a lot of stupid and wrong questions and it won’t affect anything material. When talking to people I haven’t met before, there can be a question or two asked that helps me see that I’m going to like this person. I’ve written before about the best interview questions a candidate can ask. I truly believe good questions are what sets candidates apart at later stages of the interview process, because at that point everyone is qualified for the role. That it is time to weed out the people who think/question better. Use college as an opportunity to get better at asking questions.

Effective Communication
When I think of effective communication, I think of writing and in-person speaking. If you learn how to properly express yourself and your thoughts, there is no more powerful tool. In the startup world, effective communication is key to a successful founder/team member. If you can’t get your ideas on paper or understood by others, it doesn’t matter how cool/smart/innovative your ideas are; they won’t go anywhere. In college, start writing and take some speech classes. Speak publicly as often as you can. The only way to get better at talking in public is by talking in public often. College is a great time to master the art of communication.

While these are two skills you can learn in college, if you haven’t mastered them by now, go for it. Start writing, speaking publicly, and asking everyone around you questions. It is never too late to improve these necessary skills. And once you are good, they will surely come in handy.

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Develop A Very Particular Set Of Skills

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you. 

- Liam Neeson, “Taken”

I’ve written about doing one thing better than everyone else before. That was for companies. This post is for individuals. 

Get really good at something. Something you can teach others. If you become the expert (or just really good) at that one thing you will be very valuable to a team. 

Personally, I’d like to think my particular set of skills is building out a scalable API platform. I’ve done this with a photo editing API platform and am now doing it with a payment API platform. Before that I was working on a video advertising API platform (where I learned a lot while making a bunch of mistakes). While I am by no means the foremost expert, I definitely have a lot of “don’t do this” examples to give. 

When I was talking to Ben at Dwolla about joining the team, one of the big things that struck a chord for me was that he wanted to build a team of people who had very special skills. The people that they were looking to hire would be able to contribute by teaching them their particular expertise. 

Whether it be the knowledge of leveraging social platforms for distribution, building out an API platform, a deep understanding of financial institutions, etc. I liked this approach and think it is a great way to build a killer team.

Bottom line: If you develop a particular set of skills you will be a valuable member of a team that, with the right components, will do great things.

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