Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Jeff Bussgang’s Entering Startupland

On February 15th, Babson hosted Jeff Bussgang, a venture capitalist at Flybridge Capital Partners, and the author of Mastering the VC Game. His latest book, Entering Startupland, draws from a breadth of experience in startups and venture capital. The book focuses on helping “joiners” figure out how to get into a startup, and setting their expectations for various roles within the company.

“It’s very, very rare to be a founder”

Bussgang began his talk by pointing out that there exists a “myopic view” that the world needs founders, when in fact the world has “a desperate need for joiners.” Joiners are the people who do all of the scattered, seemingly random work that is goes on inside of startups.

Bussgang wasn’t always a venture capitalist. He started out working for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) making $65,000 a year, until they made a generous offer to pay for his MBA if he returned to BCG afterwards. Yet while at business school (just before the .com boom), he received an offer from an internet company. If he took the role, he would need to pay for his MBA, and would not increase his salary.

Although everyone told him to go back to BCG, he instead took the startup job, which paid off years later when the company went public. Yet Bussgang says that, regardless of the outcome, he would have joined the startup, because it was the right fit for him at the time.

Drawing from this experience, and his experience investing in startups he gives the following advice to joiners:

1. Assess Fit.

Don’t join a company unless you would literally write a meaningful check ($10,000+) to that company as an investment. Beyond that, you’ve got to fit the culture. Carefully consider the team, the company’s mission, and if it will work for you.

2. Picking the right company

People should pick a domain, an area that they are passionate about. Bussgang states that one way to determine what you’re interested in is to look at what you enjoy reading about, what you naturally flip to in a newspaper/magazine.

Furthermore, geography is important. The startup ecosystems are deeply concentrated, tending to be located around urban hubs. It’s much easier to go for companies in those hubs.

Finally, pick a stage that you are comfortable with. The three stages of startup Bussgang mentions are Jungle (least developed), Dirt Road, and Highway (most developed).

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to  “pick a winner”. Every year, Bussgang publishes a “rocket” list of startups that might be good, which might be a useful place to start for any startup seekers. 

3. Position Yourself Well

Every year, startup companies reach out to Flybridge Capital Partners “cold”, asking for investment; Flybridge has invested in zero of these startups. Instead, Bussgang recommends getting a warm introduction through a mutual connection. If you haven’t got a connection, find one. In the same way, when looking for a job at a startup, you need a warm introduction. So get out there and network.

4. Case Study

“Come bearing gifts” says Bussgang, which means coming with a point of view and insight into their product. That will capture the startup’s interest and help you stand out. As an example, Bussgang said a potential joiner of a point of sale system (POS) startup might visit and interview restaurants that use POS systems to collect insights. Then, when it comes time to interview at the startup, the candidate can offer any of these collected insights to the startup as a way to differentiate themselves from other candidates.

Thus, when you are looking join a startup, be creative, and expect to be fluid in your role. When you join a company, think like an owner. Adopt an attitude that says, “ I will do whatever it takes”.