To succeed in the startup game, you have to know how to hustle. It’s true of both employer and employee. You’ve got to scrape, fight and study like mad if you want to stay ahead of the pack. I learned this lesson from experience, but I’ve picked up a few pointers from inveterate hustlers around me as well.
Take one of my youngest employees, for example.
A hustler born and bred.
Calvin Shell is 24 years old. He lives on his sailboat when the weather is good, rock climbs like a mountain goat, and eats Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with chopsticks. He’s also a kickass software designer and a beloved member of a dynamic, hard-charging team.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Calvin was dead broke. He didn’t own a sailboat. He was crashing with his parents and relying on plasma donations for gas money. This is a guy who went from daydreaming about an exciting, fulfilling future to actually building one. And I got an up-close look at his journey.
Here’s what he did, in four not-so-easy steps:
1. He looked for work and kept on looking.
Calvin was bright and ambitious, and he had an eclectic skillset that included videography and other cool stuff.
What he didn’t have was a college education or history of employment. He therefore applied to jobs he thought he could land. Mason’s assistant, security guard, construction worker, and gardener all made the list.
Most of these places never called him back. The few that did informed him that he lacked the necessary qualifications. It didn’t matter. The very act of looking for work–and of being willing to accept any job, however humble–presented him with a life-changing opportunity.
2. He saw his chance and acted boldly.
One day, Calvin discovered that my company was seeking a new web designer. Looking over the requirements, he decided that he met about a third of them.
He was organized and hard-working, for sure. The fact that he knew virtually nothing about web design didn’t deter him. It was a field he was interested in, and here was his chance to get involved.
Besides, he’d messed around for a bit with a friend’s website about 12 months ago. That qualified as a full year of experience with HTML and CSS, right? Calvin concluded it did, and submitted his application.
3. He did his homework and aced the interview.
Calvin survived the initial application screening alongside 10 to 15 other UI engineers, all with varying degrees of experience. Calvin, naturally, was on the low end of the scale. To make up for it, he began googling HTML and CSS with a vengeance.
Jesse Harding, our VP of Design and Product Management, recalls their phone interview:
“Calvin made an impression on me because, even though he was young, he had traveled quite a lot and was adventurous. He answered my HTML questions easily, and the fact that he showed personality made him memorable. I thought he’d potentially be a good fit for our culture if he could do the job.”
Simply put, Calvin did enough homework to squeak by, and possessed the confidence to be himself with his future boss. Those two strengths were enough to carry him to the next stage.
4. He broke the rules and burned the midnight oil.
Calvin had passed the phone screening with flying colors. Only he and five other candidates remained. The question of Calvin’s fitness was still up in the air, as he was far less experienced than his competitors.
As a final test, Jesse assigned some homework to our would-be engineers. He sent each one a screenshot of our credit report and asked them to code as much as they could in two hours using HTML and CSS. They had till the end of the week to turn in what they had.
Calvin took more than two hours. In fact, he used the full week. He studied and coded night and day. When he finally submitted the results, Jesse was impressed. And Calvin landed his dream job.
Later on, when Jesse found out that Calvin had far exceeded the two-hour time limit, did he give a damn? No. The fact that Calvin had developed his skills that quickly, and beat out some veteran candidates in the process, made him that much happier with his decision.
There you have it. A scrappy, gutsy blueprint for success. You have to be willing to work. You have to recognize opportunity when it knocks on your door. All that remains after that is to open the door, grab opportunity by the lapels, and haul it in.