Startup developers give insight to building business
SoundCloud, Mozilla maker provides solutions to technological issues
Nathan Smith had a day’s notice to design and build a 20-foot product display at Bed Bath & Beyond. He and his team worked until 2 a.m. to finish it, despite the store being closed and locked up at 9 p.m. — so Smith stocked shelves until morning and headed off for another day’s work.
Such is the allure of the lifestyle that drew about 90 students to the Busch Campus Center on Friday to learn about what it is like to work at a tech startup company from two of the industry’s leading entrepreneurs.
Readyforce, a career network that connects college students with entrepreneurs, set up the “Rutgers Readyforce Hacker Tour” as part of a countrywide bus tour to inform students about startup companies, said Anna Binder, vice president of Client Services at Readyforce.
“Startups are extremely variable,” said Smith, head of Tech at Quirky.com, a website launched in 2009 that helps inventors bring products to market. “Embrace the peaks and valleys.”
While all-nighters like the Bed Bath & Beyond incident are not necessarily routine, both Smith and Paul Osman, developer evangelist at SoundCloud, drew sharp distinctions between working for a startup versus a larger, more established company.
“Every startup is much more transparent,” said Osman, who worked for Mozilla and FreshBooks before joining the audio content platform SoundCloud. “We get daily emails from the analytics and insights teams. Everyone knows what’s going on.”
Osman said this kind of environment helps you learn more about running a business than working for a company like Microsoft, which employs 94,000 people. In contrast, both SoundCloud and Quirky started less than five years ago and have less than 200 employees. Osman said that is a good thing.
“There’s an inverse relationship between accountability and company size,” Osman said.
At SoundCloud, Osman said developers know how to deploy code while also understanding how the infrastructure is set up. It is key to reducing bureaucracy while increasing knowledge-sharing, he said.
Both Osman and Smith admitted bias toward startups, but students attending the event echoed their sentiments.
“I’m really interested in working for a startup. I like doing my own thing,” said Jonathan Eckstein, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “With a startup, you do something and it’s yours. If it’s successful, it’s your baby.”
With fast-growing startup companies, there’s a high potential for reward. SoundCloud has grown to serve more than 20 million users and continues to expand at a rate of 1.5 million per month, Osman said. Quirky.com has developed 229 products and partnered with 188 retailers, according to its website.
But students should be wary and leave a margin for error, Osman said. Before coming to SoundCloud, he said he worked for a few startups that tanked.
Dealing with issues and mistakes is the central focus of the startup life, Osman said.
“Your job isn’t to write Java code,” he said. “It’s to solve problems — being able to look at problems in a really scientific way and say, ‘Where are the bottlenecks? What technology do we need to fix it?’ We want people interested in solving problems we have.”
Still, technical skills provide the gateway to aspiring entrepreneurs, Smith said.
“Don’t worry about if there’s already something out there in this space,” Osman said. “Just build it and see how people react.”
But even when people react well, Smith and Osman refrain from relaxing or patting themselves on the back.
“When we go to bed at night, we’re not happy or thinking we did a good job. We’re uncomfortable. We’re paranoid. We’re looking at our competitors,” Smith said. “You can never really slow down if you want to remain competitive.”