I know a lot of non-technical people who would love to work in the venture-funded startup world, from consultants to finance people to other business types for which I'm not really sure exactly what it is they do. They hit obstacles trying to get into the startup world, finding that their skills are either irrelevant or hard to explain. My advice to all these people is the same:
Write a blog.
A blog can improve your life in enormous ways. Or to put it in business-speak: a blog has one of the highest ROI's of anything you can do.
Put yourself in the shoes of startups looking for talent. First off – startups are desperate for talent. The problem is that it's very difficult to identify great people – startups search through loads and loads of candidates.
Resumes and interviews only tell you so much about a person. It's really hard to stand out in a resume – you're not the only one putting over-inflated impressive-looking numbers and bullet points on your resume. And interviews are notorious for labeling bad people as good and good people as bad. So to maximize your odds of making it through the funnel, you need to show that you're awesome independent from the randomness of the normal process.
One thing you can do is write an insightful blog. This makes you look a lot more compelling. Now the reaction from startups will be "Hey, this person's really smart. We don't want to miss out on a potentially great hire, so let's put in a lot of effort to determine if there's a good fit."
A new dimension of opportunity
There's another huge advantage to having a blog besides being a mechanism to show that you're smart and insightful. A blog opens up a whole new dimension of opportunity for you. Instead of relying purely on outbound opportunities that you explicitly seek out yourself, you also will get inbound opportunities where people reach out to you with opportunities you never expected or dreamed of.
With an outbound opportunity you know exactly what you're seeking, whether it's landing a job or speaking at a conference or something else. Inbound opportunities, on the other hand, are highly uncertain. They come to you out of the blue. In my personal experience, many of the most awesome things I've done started as inbound opportunities: a book deal, flying all around the world for free to speak at conferences, a keynote at a major conference, and connecting with hundreds of awesome people who have reached out to me because of something I did or wrote publicly.
When you write a blog, you greatly increase the likelihood of getting awesome inbound opportunities. When it comes to breaking into Silicon Valley – instead of everything being on your shoulders to seek interesting companies, those companies will be reaching out to you.
A great phrase I've heard for this is "increasing your luck surface area". By providing value to people publicly, like writing insightful posts on a blog, you open yourself up to serendipitous, "lucky" opportunities.
Besides writing smart posts, you also need people to read your writing. Here's a few tips for accomplishing that.
First off, the title of a blog post is incredibly important. In very few words, you need to sell your potential reader that your blog post is going to be worth their time. I've found the the best titles are relevant to the potential reader, somewhat mysterious, and non-generic. Titles are definitely an art form, so you should think hard about how you'll name your posts. Sometimes I wait days to publish a post because I haven't thought of a compelling enough title.
Second, I highly recommend using Twitter as a distribution platform for your blog posts. The combination of Twitter and blogging leads to a beautifully virtuous cycle: your blog increases your Twitter following, and as your Twitter following grows you increase the reach of your blog. I consider Twitter to be the greatest professional networking tool ever devised – I follow people who tweet/blog interesting things and they follow me for the same reason. Then when I go to conferences I seek out the people who I know and respect from their online presence. When we meet, we already know a lot about each other and have a lot to talk about.
Lastly, you should embrace the online communities who will care about your blog. In Silicon Valley, the most important community is Hacker News. Hacker News is widely read in Silicon Valley by programmers, entrepreneurs, and investors. It can drive a lot of readers to your blog in a short amount of time.
Initially, it may be hard for you to get readers. Getting your posts on Hacker News is very much a crapshoot, and initially you'll have too small of a Twitter following to get that much distribution. But occasionally you'll write something smart that gets on Hacker News and gets shared around. Over time as your writing and distribution improves getting readers gets easier and easier.
What to write about
If you don't think you have anything to write about, then let me ask you a question. Do you really have that low of an opinion of yourself? Do you really think you have nothing interesting that you can share with the world? There's tons of stuff that you can write about that you don't even know to share. You have a ton of knowledge that you don't realize other people don't know because you spend all your time in your own head. Tell stories of times that you hustled. Write about the dynamics of big companies. Write case studies of anything related to running a business. Analyze the market for interesting new technologies (e.g. 3D printing, Bitcoin, etc). There's so much that you can write about.
Once you start blogging, you'll become attuned to random ideas you have throughout the day that would make good blog posts. Most of my blog ideas start off as email reminders to myself.
If you haven't blogged before, you're going to suck at first. Being accurate, precise, and insightful is not enough. You have to learn how to hook people into your posts and keep the post engaging. You'll learn about the glorious world of internet commenting, where people constantly misinterpret what you say and apply very fallacious reasoning to your posts. You'll see people trash your ideas on Hacker News even though it's clear they didn't read your entire post. Sometimes they comment having only read the title! You'll learn over time different ways to structure the same information in order to minimize misinterpretation. You'll learn to anticipate fallacious reasoning and preemptively address those fallacies.
With writing, practice most definitely makes perfect. I sucked at writing at first, but I quickly improved.
A lot of people say they "don't have time to write." To be blunt, I think comments like this are the result of laziness and self-delusion. Writing a blog is really not that much work. You really can't find a couple hours to pump out a blog post? Just occasionally, instead of going out to the bar or seeing a movie or going surfing or doing whatever it is you do for fun, try writing. The potential benefits relative to the investment are MASSIVE. I haven't even discussed all the other benefits which on their own make blogging worthwhile.
Of course, writing isn't the only thing you can do to help yourself break into Silicon Valley. But it's an enormously easy way to make yourself stand out and open yourself to opportunities you never expected.
You should follow me on Twitter here.