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How I got a job offer from a funded startup

smeijer profile image Stephan Meijer ・8 min read

I recently got an exciting job offer, that I had to decline. This article is my attempt to share how it came to that, and what I've learned from it.

How it started

It all started with a simple tweet about a tool that I wanted to share with all of you. As the company in question asked me not to mention them in this article, I need to keep this intro a bit vague. But, that's fine. This article is about the experience, not about "the startup" in question.

Shortly after that tweet, they send me a DM. They are trying to build a community around the tool and were wondering whether I remembered how/where I learned about its existence. After a few messages back and forth, they invited me to their Discord.

The invite

There weren't many users in the Discord, and we were just chatting a bit about random dev stuff. In the meanwhile, I was reading a bit about the startup and found out they were looking for people. I didn't consider switching jobs at the time. But as a maker, I was curious about how the development of an open source cli utility contributes to building a sustainable business.

They explained me that there hasn't been an official announcement, but that they were working on an companion product. They also mentioned that they've noticed that I've "built some impressive stuff like updrafts.app", and were happy to chat if I was interested in any of the positions.

I never expected that my question about their business would lead to an invite to chat. I know this is something small. But I had a moment of pride. Honestly, hearing or reading someone else say that they noticed your work, and found it impressive, feels amazing. I wish people would compliment each other more often. I'll never know for sure, but I like to think that it was my side projects that opened this door.

Anyways, I wasn't looking to switch jobs. So that's where the story ended.

Let's talk

Fast forward to April '21. They send out a tweet mentioning that they were looking to expand the team. As I also operate on the hiring side, it's interesting for me to know what vacancies are out there, and what financial compensation companies offer. I see reading vacancies as part of my job, but I never apply as part of it. I want to stay respectful of people's time. Going into an interview when I know there is no chance of success, is a waste of time and I find that disrespectful.

Their vacancies mentioned "Competitive salary and meaningful stock options". So I went to Discord and asked if they had more specifics about that. Almost instantly, they replied with their salary range, and the range of stock options one would receive. That message was later removed. Although I don't agree with hiding salaries, I won't quote it out of respect to them. In that same minute, they also mentioned that they were "happy to hop on Zoom".

It took me 20 minutes to come up with a proper response to that message. As I mentioned, I usually don't jump into calls, because I don't want to waste time if I already know it won't be a fruitful talk. But something was different this time. One of the vacancies was like it was written towards my profile, and their salary range looked promising. The startup felt like an awesome company to work for. I was honestly interested, so I decided to send them a message to let them know I was ready to chat.

First chat

And that was honestly all I expected. We scheduled a 30-minute chat, and I expected that we would talk about what kind of company the startup is, and what roles they were looking to fill. Time was flying by, and our 30-minute chat turned into a 3-hour talk. I got really excited about this!

We talked a bit about the startup, how they plan to grow it into a sustainable business, and we talked a bit about my day job. I think those subjects would have fitted perfectly within that 30-minute window. If only we didn't start the conversation around my open source work, side projects, and articles that I've been publishing.

During this first chat, it became clear that we were a perfect match. I'm able to bootstrap applications, I'm independent, can move fast, and have experience with early-stage startups. I check all the boxes in the profile that they're looking for. I don't mean it to brag. We were just so compatible, that I got more and more excited about this by the minute. It was like love at first sight but on a professional level.

We ended our call with the notice that we would both digest the conversation, and would come back to it later.

They bought a license!

A day after our call, I noticed that they bought a license for updrafts.app, and created an account at rake.red. I reached out to them on Discord, mentioned that I noticed their purchase and that I'm happy to jump on another call to walk them through what it has to offer.

They mentioned they'll keep digging for a while, but would like to schedule the next call to continue our conversation from the day before. And so we did.

That second call didn't last long. They mentioned that they were impressed by my work. They liked how I'm able to solve my own problems and turn them into products that can be monetized. They found my articles structured, well written, and I'm able to explain complex subjects in simple terms. I planned to ask them what they thought of the products, but it completely slipped my mind.

The call took about 15 - 20 minutes, and we ended with an agreement that I'd do a test task.

Test Task

Even though they were honestly excited about my side projects, open-source work, and articles, it wasn't enough to exempt me from doing a test task. Their task involved "Creating a prototype of an interactive API documentation that can be used for user testing". The description was a bit vague, and if I already had the job, I'd definitely jump on a call to get a better understanding of what they had in mind. But I approached it as a chance to show that I'm able to turn a vague customer description into a product. I believe that's what distinguishes me from most other developers.

I did ask them how much time they'd expect candidates to spend on the task, to which they replied that that "It’s very individual, typically 3–10 hours".

Honestly, creating something useful in 3 hours sounds impossible to me. But I was confident that I could create something in ~8 hours (a typical workday). And so I did. I tweeted about my prototype, and they send a DM that they liked what they were seeing.

Nailed It!

Exactly a week after the second call, we had our third call. We talked about the test task, and I explained how I interpreted the task and why I've built the site the way I did. They mentioned that I found the right balance between trade-offs, spend my time on the right parts, and kind of nailed it. They also mentioned that ~8 hours is the sweet spot to spend on a task like this.

When we were done talking about the task, I came back to that forgotten question from call 2. "You've tried my products, what do you think of them?" I got some useful feedback out of that, and some more compliments. Which isn't why I asked about it, but it felt nice nevertheless.

Shortly after the third call, I had a fourth to meet one of the colleagues. It was a more informal chat, meant as a "get to know each other".

Three days later they made me an offer, which I later declined due to personal reasons.

Lessons Learned

I hear you think. Okay, nice story. But why did I read this? Well, I've learned a few things, and I was working towards that. So let me share what I got out of this:

  • Visibility for the win! For the bigger part of my career, I've been invisible. Working as a one-man team on a business-to-business collaboration platform, while not hearing anything from anyone. Mostly triggered by covid, I've moved to platforms like Twitter and Discord to satisfy my hunger for a bit of social contact. Since then, I tweet occasionally and feel less burdened to send an innocent message like "got any details?". A year ago, I wouldn't have expected this, but seriously, it opens doors! Just make yourself visible. By showing your work, responding to people, or just a small chat. It doesn't matter how, but stay respectful. It's not about having thousands of followers either. It's about showing who you are.

  • I believe I nailed this one because I'm confident that I'm a match. I also know how to screw up, but overall I have a good score of hit/miss ratio. One thing that keeps coming back, is that I fail at the interviews that come up with white-board or trivia questions. But prepare a drink, and chat with me about my experiences, apps that I've built, ask me how I would solve a customer's problem, and I'm able to convince you of my strength. Not because I'm a show-off. But because I'm confident in what I do.

  • Test Tasks suck! It took 8 hours of my time. Trivia sucks more, but this ain't awesome either. In my case, it was okay. I liked this task, and I can see myself building it into another (open-source) side project. The whole experience was motivational, and I got tons of new ideas. But I would never ask a candidate to do the same. Especially not as vague as this one was. And there it was again. The Trivia. Should I ask for more details to build exactly what they expect? Or would the simple fact of asking, make me fail this round?

  • When possible, stay in touch! I think one of the nice things about this experience was that it was just so informal. I didn't wait for the next call to let them know I noticed their purchase of one of my apps. And they didn't wait for the next call to let me know that they liked my task result. This back and forth messaging between the calls, has a binding effect. It strengthens your relationships and thereby improves your chance of success. But again, don't overdo it. Stay respectful and professional.

Final Words

The startup felt like an awesome company to work for. I didn't accept the position, but I can imagine that there will be days that I'm thinking back to this experience with the thought that I've made the wrong choice.

The calls were nice, and the task was highly relevant for the position that I was applying for. If you're looking for a job, I recommend taking a look at...

Sorry, this is where it ends. They asked me to remove all references to their company and personal names. So I can't point you to their jobs page, or discord. Follow me instead? You can find me on Twitter and my other articles are listed at meijer.ws/articles.

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