The personal computer is dead. As quickly as we moved from the desktop to the laptop, we are moving to the tablet — never to return. With the death of the PC, an entire ecosystem dies with it. The chipset is ARM based, rather than Intel. The operating system is all iOS and Android, rather than Windows. The applications are hosted cloud apps like Box, Google Apps, and Evernote rather than Sharepoint, Office and Outlook.

This is rocking the industry. Dell is being taken private — closing a curtain to start the dirty work of restructuring. HP, Microsoft, and Intel are all trading well off their peaks when the Dow has recently hit an all time high. IBM, looks like the sole winner, jettisoning its PC business years ago to China-based Lenovo. Well, it’s a good thing all of these companies also play a big part in the $55B* server market — that’s not going away anytime soon, right? The worst days are over and hopefully their collective market caps will recover? Not so fast…

Modern web services, such as Google, Apple and Facebook are pushing the limits of data center scaling to unprecedented levels as they deal with an exponential growth in user traffic. They are playing a massive game of Tetris as they grapple with deploying and operating data centers with tens of thousands of servers versus hundreds. They are all on the bleeding edge of trying to contain costs while cramming as much capacity into a physical building as possible. The result is a complete architectural rethink of datacenter designs and the incumbent server vendors are struggling to stay relevant in this new reality.

The new data center designs use only commodity “vanity free” components procured directly from the original design manufacturers (ODM) — the current incumbent’s suppliers. For easy serviceability, components are velcro’d together versus mounted in a box. All bells and whistles are stripped off and the hardware is purpose built for a specific application and therefore carefully tuned. As compute utilization rates skyrocket from virtualization and parallel processing, the CPUs are running harder and hotter and therefore the new expense bottleneck is all about power and cooling.

Take for instance, Facebook’s Open Compute initiative, which lays out a blueprint for an energy efficient hyper-scale datacenter that is 38 percent more energy efficient and 24 percent less expensive than current datacenters. Locating in cold climates and next to super-cheap hydro power has become de rigor. Power distribution, cooling and building layouts have been redesigned from the ground-up to maximize mechanical performance and electrical efficiency of the datacenter. And unfortunately for Intel, the relentless march of Moore’s Law no longer affords them differentiation, as customer needs have shifted from performance to power efficiency, an area where they lag rival ARM processors.

The evolution of the modern hyper-scale datacenter reflects the hyper-scale needs of the applications that run on them. Modern web 2.0 (and increasingly SaaS) applications need to handle thousands of user requests per second, processing terabytes of information in real-time across hundreds of customers. They are by necessity massively parallel and work in concert to service a user request. This is the modern equivalent of a giant supercomputer — except cobbled together from commodity server components and interconnect fabrics. It’s a profound software and hardware architectural shift that is taking us from a world where datacenters consisted of small number of independent high performance branded servers to a brave new world where the giant, datacenter building is the server.

Meanwhile on the enterprise front, the corporate datacenter is becoming increasingly sedate as on-prem applications give way to their SaaS counterparts.

The new data center architectures, borne of necessity from the giant web service providers, have the potential to massively drive down the cost of providing software as a service, the new winner in enterprise applications. As such, the cloud service providers (CSPs) such as Amazon and Rackspace, are adopting these “scale-out” architectures.

So fast forward: SaaS, will win the enterprise market. Face it — it’s just so much better and now, infinitely cheaper than any of the alternatives. And modern SaaS applications will be delivered through hyper-scale data centers that do not have branded servers from Dell, HP or IBM, but rather highly optimized, scale-out white box servers made by Asian ODMs. In addition, the operators of these massive data centers will be experts in servicing their creations — monitoring, fixing and rapidly swapping out their expected-to-fail components. Therefore, there will no longer be a need for the recurring revenue, high-margin service and maintenance contracts that have been a mainstay of the OEM server industry.

I wonder if Lenovo is in the market for a server business too?

: )

I would like to thank my partner, Ramu Arunachalam for his research, analysis, and material contributions to this blog.


*IDC estimates (2012)

It is now clear that App.net (ADN) is not just a for fee twitter clone but a full on platform for developers to build a whole new set of services on top of.

With the announcement and launch of a free tier, ADN is following in the footsteps of Evernote, Dropbox, and Github in providing a well-worn business model. And the media, including Fast Company, Forbes, Quartz, TechCrunch, the Verge, VentureBeat, plus many more – are taking notice.

According to Forbes, “Caldwell is part of a larger trend that is trying to apply the way developers think about the digital world to products that can be easily used by non-technical consumers. These attempts buck the more general trend in the app-o-verse of insulating users from any direct contact with their own data or any sense of how much control they could actually exert upon it, given the slightest effort.”

Exactly right. ADN gives developers the ability to build innovative products and solutions that users love and gives users the ability to choose which social experience is best for themselves.

One of my favorite quotes from the coverage is from the Quartz piece: “While Twitter is trying to provide the social-media equivalent of a fully fitted bathroom, App.net’s could best be described as just the plumbing.”

We couldn’t agree more. Some people like marble bathrooms with jeweled faucets and others like a bare bones outdoor shower, but both need running water. Just like plumbing, your social graph is an incredible tool and we support ADN’s vision to let developers design countless “bathrooms” and let users choose what works best for them.

TechCrunch points to the importance of timing in making a critical move like this. Dalton has been very thoughtful about the impact of freemium on the ADN community. And wanted to build out the broader developer ecosystem before attracting a broader audience. The invitation system is a prudent way to open the doors slowly.

I want to congratulate the ADN team for the work and preparation behind this freemium launch – the coverage has been uniformly positive and the users are responding!

We are excited about the possibilities of this new platform and can’t wait to see what the developer community builds using the power of this new model. Sign up here for instant access or get a hold of an invite to check out freemium!

It took almost six months for my former company IronPort’s acquisition by Cisco to close and it seemed like forever. Although I was still the CEO by name, I was essentially running a “puppet” government with every hire, major expense and strategic shift needing explicit approval from my soon-to-be-overlords. Since Cisco was a functionally organized company, I would soon be losing half of my direct reports as sales, HR, and finance would report into their respective groups. My job was becoming smaller and it had considerably fewer degrees of freedom. So here was the big dilemma: I had signed up for 24 months of re-vesting my founder’s shares that wouldn’t begin until the deal was closed and it already seemed like a paint-drying eternity. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t cut out for a big company but I just couldn’t spend the next two years watching the clock or I’d spiral into insanity. What to do?

An analogy hit me as I watched my son at recent team practice: Water polo. Despite growing up on Florida beaches, I’m not that great of a swimmer. I’ve never even put on a Speedo. I didn’t think that I would like anything about water polo. However, if I was locked in a sports complex every day for two years and everyone else was playing water polo — how long could I sit on the edge of the pool before I gave it a go? Should I just go through the motions? Splash water on my face and feign participation? No, I came to believe there was only one way forward: shave all the hair off my body, put on the Speedo, start throwing elbows, making shots and playing with vigor…

Seriously and specifically, after six months in, I strongly advocated to be put in charge of all Security products at Cisco — a business that was three times larger than IronPort. I believe if the leaders of a newly acquired company are locked up for a significant period of time (>18 months), they should strongly advocate for bigger jobs within the acquiring company. This is especially true if the leader isn’t planning on staying around after the vesting period. This may seem like odd advice, but here’s the rationale:

It’s not about you, it’s about your team. If you’re a disaffected leader, moping around, “doing time” and talking smack, your team will disintegrate and the acquisition will fail. On the other hand, if you land a larger role, you are in a unique position to help them out. You owe it to the people who ate Ramen noodles while you paid them in potentially worthless stock to work at your company in the beginning. In addition to promoting some of them to larger roles within your new org, you will be much more connected to the cross-company opportunities and can advocate for your top performers. When your team sees you engaging, they are more likely to pull harder, too. Most of the mid-level managers at IronPort had a significant increase in their responsibilities at Cisco and it prepared them to take on even larger roles both in and outside the company. There is a myth that employees that come from a startup aren’t cut out for large companies — in fact, many may be ready for a change. Over the eight years we built IronPort, many of our single employees got married, had kids and wanted the current income, benefits, lighter work hours, and increased stability of a larger company.

You need to “sew in the organ” to make the acquisition successful. Most acquisitions fail. If something isn’t big enough to stand on it’s own or doesn’t logically snap into an existing business line, it will usually wither and die. This is especially true if the acquired leaders leave or become disaffected. Employees mimic leaders’ behavior or get shifted to new leaders when the previous ones exit and have no connection or trust with their new reporting chain. If the leaders take larger and different roles within the acquiring company they form beachheads of trust and points of navigation. It becomes less “them” vs. “us” and a more collective “we.” Look, I’m not saying it’s ever going to be Kumbaya over s’mores, but it’s a helluva lot easier to accept the bullshit you get at a large company if you have someone you trust explaining the rationale to you.

You will meet amazing great people as you get closer to the inner circle. If your head isn’t in the game, you’ll never spend any meaningful time with the best people. After my promotion, I got to spend a ton of time with the senior team, went through their version of VP leadership training, and tackled many tough strategic issues. I believe it’s only by really getting to know the key people that you can make an informed decision about making a career at the new company. Yes, I met my share of climbers, passive-aggressive assholes, and C-players but that didn’t really matter long term. The rockstars I came across have become lifelong colleagues — some of whom have stayed — but many have moved on to bigger, more interesting jobs in hot Silicon Valley companies. Don’t overlook the importance of this opportunity.

If you decided to take my advice and push for a larger role, I have a few more suggestions once you’re there:

Don’t play favorites with your old team. If you’ve run a successful startup, you’ve likely attracted first-rate talent to join you. Invariably, the close relationships, trust from working together, and familiarity with their great work will lead you to promote them first and fast. However, it’s important for them to earn some credibility with the new organization first. In retrospect, I moved too quickly and put my old team in charge too fast. We suffered from a perception of an “IronPort takeover” that was hard to reverse. I should have taken more time to evaluate my inherited Cisco team and let the cream of the crop rise naturally.

Mix up the talent. When we announced the reorg, I shuffled the leadership decks completely. The IronPort SVP of Engineering took over the firewall group and the Cisco VP running firewalls took over IronPort. Each had a fresh set of eyes and legs to apply to their new areas and attacked getting up to speed with vigor. In addition, we flew in all the director-level leaders and above from all the product groups to do group brainstorming and come up with new roadmaps for every product. Because the plans were argued and debated out in the open with everyone involved, there was much more buy-in with the employees working on the products.

Speak your mind. I was constantly pointing out inconsistencies, stupid directives, red tape, and anything that got in the way of doing the right thing. The fact that I wasn’t nursing a 10-year career trajectory and was on the fence about staying long term was incredibly freeing in terms of getting things done. In general, large companies get caught up in their processes so much that the leaders forget how to push to do the right thing. In addition to making the experience more entertaining, I met a bunch of other, like-minded leaders and made progress on important projects.

Negotiate for more compensation. Although this is starting to change at companies like Facebook and Google, most large companies are not prepared to be competitive with hot startups for compensating executives. As the leader, you can create a business case of what a comparable compensation plan would look like for a CEO of a private company. The main benefit here, again, is for your team versus you. If you can set up a compensation umbrella for you, it will apply directly to the rest of your executive team and top engineers.

Put together a succession plan. (Especially, if you’ve definitively decided it’s not for you.) In today’s world, 18-month stints are the norm at well-run large companies so there’s no need to feel bad leaving at the end of your vesting period. If you’ve integrated the team, someone would have likely distinguished his or herself and can be promoted into your role. If you’ve addressed your compensation and met all the best people, you’ll have all the data in place to make an informed decision to stay or move on.

In the end, for a variety of reasons, I left Cisco two years to the day when my vesting period was over. My former SVP of marketing at IronPort took over my role as head of all security products at Cisco. Many of the best people at IronPort stayed at Cisco for many years after their IronPort vesting was over. I believe the main reason the acquisition was a success was because the team engaged and meaningfully integrated into Cisco.

     “There are a bunch of aggressive, ivy-league educated, high IQ people working in Bentonville whose careers are going nowhere because they never learned how to connect with other people.” ­­­— Lee Scott, (now former) CEO of Walmart, circa 2008.

During my short tenure at Cisco, I attended a leadership offsite where Lee Scott was the featured speaker. I certainly knew of Walmart but had never heard of Lee Scott before this meeting. He humbly delivered a powerful hour-long speech on leadership ­­­— without notes or slides, as he paced the stage, hands in pockets. While I’ve heard a lot of leaders speak, I’ve never come away more impressed with how the delivery matched the content.

What struck me the most? That authenticity and humility lead to trust. Trust leads to approachability and open communications. And after listening to Lee for just an hour, he felt familiar and approachable.

Honest and fallible.

Lee definitely knew how to be authentic. For others, this may not come so easily.

At the core, coaching authenticity is complicated ­— some might say impossible. Telling someone to be authentic sounds pretty low calorie. Especially to a founder plowing through a list of product and operational goals. But it’s important. An approachable and authentic CEO is essential to fostering a high-performance, open communications culture.

About the clearest discussion I’ve seen on authenticity is a paragraph in Jack Welch’s book, “Winning”:

     “A person cannot make hard decisions, hold unpopular positions, or stand tall for what he believes unless he knows who he is and feels comfortable in his own skin. I am talking about self-confidence and conviction. These traits make a leader bold and decisive, which is absolutely critical in times where you must act quickly, often without complete information. Just as important, authenticity makes a leader likeable, for lack of a better word. Their realness comes across in the way they communicate and reach people on emotional level. Their words move them; their message touches something inside. When I was at GE, we would occasionally encounter a very successful executive who just could not be promoted to the next level. In the early days, we would struggle with our reasoning. The person demonstrated the right values and made the numbers, but usually his people did not connect with him. What was wrong? Finally, we figured out that these people always had a certain phoniness about them. They pretended to be something they were not ­­­— more in control, more upbeat, more savvy than they really were. They didn’t sweat. They didn’t cry. They squirmed in their own skin, playing a role of their own inventing. A leader in times of crisis can’t have an iota of fakeness in him. He has to know himself­­ ­— and like himself ­­­— so that he can be straight with the world, energize followers, and lead with the authority born of authenticity.”

He absolutely nails it.

The quote clearly illuminates the issue, though stops short of giving practical advice. I am often asked by founders and CEOs how to be more approachable or make a personal connection. And of course, while being authentic means something different to everyone — here are a few ways one could start:

Get self-aware. As I mentioned in a previous post (Treating the Dysfunctional CEO), all leaders need feedback. Having an understanding of how others perceive you — through a solid 360-review process — is the crucial first step towards being real. Learn and accept your foibles and faults. Poke fun and work on them out in the open. “I’ll try to keep this short, I know I can be long winded…” etc.

Talk about failures. Nothing helps make a leader more approachable than admitting your struggles, screw-ups and behind-the-scenes thinking on hard calls. If the leader makes this a priority, the whole company will be more open and methodical learning from failure. At IronPort, we used to go through exhaustive post-mortems: customer losses, engineering slips, and misplaced strategies.

Show up to socialize. Have a beer bust on Friday afternoons. Take a team to lunch. Drop in on a late-night networked video game war. (As a newbie, I was slaughtered pretty quickly). Especially if you are naturally an introvert, you must go out of your way to socialize with your team.

Embrace “professional intimacy.” I love this phrase. It describes a leader’s willingness to get personal and talk about life at home or their own career struggles. E.g. “My wife once threw my blackberry in the toilet… It’s essential to be able to balance home and work before it blows up.”

Nix multi-task listening. It’s one thing to ask someone what they are working on and another to really tune in, give them your full attention and ask follow up questions. I constantly see bad behavior with executives checking their watch or texts, or looking over a shoulder to see who else is in the room. That’s just phony crap.

Loosen up! This is really about speaking to others as though you really trust them with your thoughts vs. reverting to canned responses or the “company line.” Leaders that can explore the poles of an issue, in their own words and off the cuff with employees will gain real trust. This is especially true during all hands/company meetings.

Get good at speaking. As a CEO, if you are a nervous public speaker, you need to practice. Find a coach, do some videotaping and/or try Toastmasters. The goal is to have a marathoner’s heartbeat when speaking to a crowd so as to be natural and comfortable.

And finally: embrace different views.  Encourage employees to challenge your decisions and approach. Let everyone know that you are not perfect, you don’t always have the best answer, and sometimes they have better answers.  In some cases, you will get good ideas too. You are obviously the decision maker but embracing different views will improve openness. (Thanks to Yoram at Maxta for this suggestion!)

I leave you with two examples:

Alec Baldwin’s parody of a GE exec on “30 Rock” comes to mind. Yet for all that’s been said, good and bad, about GE…the company does actually have an enduring, high-performing culture for a reason.

And secondly, from what I understand, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, is the embodiment of an authentic leader. He would fly around and hold informal meetings with groups of employees that would yield all kinds of new innovations.

It’s leaders like Herb and the execs at GE, whom employees actually trust – that inspire ideas, pushback, and foster tremendous loyalty.

I have so much respect for people who fought online criminals for eBay and PayPal. There hasn’t been a set of websites more highly targeted by cybercriminals and fraudsters.  The founders of Silver Tail, Mike Eynon and Laura Mather, were colleagues on the anti-fraud team at eBay/PayPal for three years and had a front row seat to the newest attack techniques and the most beguiling exploits. It stands to reason that the team pioneering security and anti-fraud techniques at the tip of the spear would come up with a breakthrough technology. This was the genesis of Silver Tail.

After testing with customers, it was clear that Mike and Laura were on to something special but desperately needed help to scale. The product needed many refinements and it was clear that they should bring in a seasoned executive to help them with sales, marketing, and building a team. Enter Tim Eades as their new CEO and partner. Tim had been a longtime sales and marketing executive at IBM and a CEO at Everyone.net. His aggressive, take-no-prisoners competitiveness, indomitable work ethic, and remarkable ability to enroll customers and recruits made him the perfect fit.

When Andreessen Horowitz first started looking at Silver Tail, they had just been named to the Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) as the furthest out on the “Visionary” or “X” axis. This MQ position fairly reflected the stage of the company and the founders’ technical breakthrough.

Source: Gartner (February 2011)

On the “Y” axis however, which measures “Execution,” Silver Tail was still in its infancy. They had a total of 15 customers using the product, with only a few paying, and the rest in beta. That said, customers were not on the fence with how they felt about it: “We’ve never seen anything like it!” and “They are charging too little…”

So, they had a proven technology and a few rabidly fanatical customers. At this point, the company’s future was going to revolve around it executing flawlessly to win the market. And they did that and more. The team’s accomplishments are exemplified by the most recent (May 2012) Gartner MQ:

Source: Gartner (May 2012)

It’s the story of how the team, driven by Tim, deployed the product, acquired customers, scaled the company, and accelerated into a tornado in merely 18 months:

  • Almost two thirds of the top US banks have deployed the product or are in the process of deploying.
  • A skeleton crew of 12 expanded to a global team of nearly 100, including top notch teams in Federal and European markets.
  • Three new, world-class executives joined the team to lead product and marketing, engineering and finance. Each one built a remarkable team of rock stars.
  • An irreverent, open-communication, and high-performing culture helped attract and retain top talent.
  • Huge success in ecommerce.
  • Customer responsiveness became a true market differentiator as the team overemphasized quality and support. In fact, existing customer referrals are Silver Tail’ s largest source of new leads.
  • The company was cash flow positive in the first half of their 2012 fiscal year.

This “hockey stick” ramp reflects the disruptive nature of Silver Tail’s Web Session Intelligence technology and the rapidly shifting frame of reference currently underway in the security space. Analyzing “snapshots in time” of network traffic and deploying “signatures” is not keeping up with the innovation of hackers and cybercriminals.

Silver Tail’s success in the market did not go unnoticed. We are announcing today that Silver Tail has signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by EMC/RSA. From the very beginning, Tim and the founders had a vision of helping to eliminate fraud and deploying their technology as widely as possible. With EMC’s worldwide presence and resources, they will achieve these goals much faster and integrate into a broader set of security and anti-fraud technologies.

Please join me in congratulating Tim, Laura, Mike and the rest of the incredible Silver Tail team in marrying the ultimate peanut butter-and-chocolate combo: A breakthrough technology innovation with near-flawless execution!

I would also like to thank my partners, Mark Cranney, Jeff Stump and the entire a16z team for all of their extra effort with Silver Tail – it made a meaningful difference…

SAP bought Business Objects for $6.78 billion dollars. Oracle bought Hyperion for $3.3 billion dollars. IBM bought Cognos for $4.9 billion dollars.

People were willing to pay a ton for old school business analytics… You’d collect business data with an extract, transform and load (ETL) software, carefully organize and fill a data warehouse, and then run specialized business intelligence (BI) reports against that structured database. Although it was a slow and expensive process, the results were totally worth it—crazy insights that drove revenue, cut costs and put bananas in every aisle in the grocery store!

However, in the world of big data, it looks like the old guard has been caught completely flatfooted. The continued success of super cheap, open source Hadoop has the $35 billion business analytics market scrambling to protect their cash cows in an era of free milk. This week you will see many of the old players rolling out strategies to remain relevant; creating “connectors” and hybrid Hadoop-SQL technologies to place Hadoop one step back in the pipeline behind their stuff. But all they have done is make things more complicated for IT and less accessible for the business user. Where is the promised disruption?

Platfora is launching today as a breakthrough BI product for getting insights from data in Hadoop. Instead of trying to replicate the old school stack, Platfora has reinvented the entire process. The Platfora magic is that it sits next to Hadoop and allows business users to interact with massive datasets to perform simple or complex queries in a sub-second instead of hours or days. No ETL or data warehouse is necessary, period. Platfora eliminates two steps of the old stack and makes businesses way more efficient. That’s disruptive. That changes the business analytics landscape.

The Platfora news is:

  • After 18 months in development, Platfora is unveiling their first-of-a-kind product to the world. Platfora is in full beta with 10 serious enterprise customers and they have the pipeline in place to expand to nearly 100 before GA in early Q1.
  • To build the product, the Platfora development team has amassed an arsenal of top talent in the database and interface design world. This launch is just the beginning and this platform will expand over time.
  • While in stealth, Ben added veteran leaders Peter Schlampp as VP of Products & Marketing and John Schuster as VP of Engineering. I’ve known both these guys for years from IronPort and they have a track record of building huge, successful businesses.

As a board member, I now have over a year of game footage on Ben Werther and John Eshleman as they’ve grown the company and hit all of their milestones. Since we’ve been involved, they’ve built a team of rockstars, engaged with over 150 customers and shipped an amazing product. Their urgency, cadence and customer-centric, methodical march have been absolutely textbook. In fact, I’ve been sending other portfolio companies to Ben to study how they’ve done what they’ve accomplished. As I said in an earlier blog post on Platfora, we have always been excited about Ben’s vision for Platfora and are now even more excited about his execution. Congratulations to Ben and the team!

I often get asked about what’s the best path to becoming a successful entrepreneur: “Should I go try and start a company now? Or go to grad school? How about working at a large tech company for a few years?”

I spent five years at a large technology company, two years at business school and then two years in consulting before I went to a startup. Even with that experience, I still believe I was too green to jump right in and start a company. It’s not that those experiences weren’t valuable­­­—it’s just that the most valuable learnings for successfully running a startup come from actually working at a well-run startup. I’d go even further to assert that the startup should be based in Silicon Valley and backed by venture capital.

You could just start a company without any startup experience, sure, but you will have a significantly higher chance of success if you already know how to navigate a startup’s unique challenges, including: raising money, changing product direction, and cultivating a culture. These are hard things to learn on the job and you may have only one shot at the crucial “friends and family” round to get you started.

Why a Silicon Valley, VC-backed startup? If you just graduated college, you probably haven’t developed the experience or instincts to judge whether a startup has a great team, a differentiated product or is going after a large enough market. While certainly not perfect, the VCs have done a lot of this important vetting for you, and their decision to invest can be considered a boost of credibility and resources for the company. Also, within each technology region, there is a dense network of specialized talent, financiers, and service organizations (e.g. legal, PR, recruiting) that form a startup ecosystem. Silicon Valley is by far the largest ecosystem and therefore holds the most potential job opportunities and the strongest network.

What about grad school or establishing a foundation at a large company? It comes down to relevance. The responsibilities, roles, contacts, context, culture, communications, risks and instincts you need to develop to eventually run a successful startup are best found at a startup.

If you’re trying to prepare yourself for entrepreneurship— the same two to four years at a startup isn’t even comparable to the equivalent time spent in school or a large company. There’s probably five to ten times more learnings and relevance at the startup.

The next step involves finding the right startup to join. As it turns out, I moved out to Palo Alto from Boston in 1996 with virtually no connections or contacts and over $100,000 in school loans from business school. A few things I did are surprisingly still relevant today:

  • Prepare for a long haul. You’ll need to move out here without a job while most of your friends have jobs locked up well before graduation. If you don’t have enough savings, you may need to get a part-time job while you job hunt. If this step makes you nervous at all, you may want to reconsider the entrepreneurial job choice. 🙂
  • Research.  Start by downloading the last four venture capital surveys from the San Jose Mercury News website. These PDFs summarize the last year of companies that have been funded by VCs. Included are the company name, amount raised, VC involved and headquarters city. This is a great list to start with because all of these companies have recently raised capital and are therefore likely in hiring mode. Build a spreadsheet, start researching and then rank these companies by your level of interest. Go to the VC websites, check all the online publications (e.g. AllThingsD, TechCrunch, etc.), and look up the company name URLs. While you are on the VC websites, you should look through all of the companies on their “portfolio” tab to see if any should be added to your list.
  • Focus. There are many different types of startups and many different jobs within a startup. If you can code, there will be obvious roles within engineering, sales engineering or quality assurance. If coding isn’t for you, you’ll need to figure out the best entry-level role to position yourself. Perhaps in customer care, product management, finance, inside sales, or business development. It will also help to choose between the type of startup: enterprise or consumer. The more you begin to focus, the more credible you’ll become as you deep dive into the differences between the roles and the way the different companies go to market. You’ll want to be as knowledgeable as possible before you start networking.
  • Make a target list. After doing all this research, narrow it down to 20-30 target companies and make a market map or web of every possible link to the company—names of the investors, management team, PR firms—every potential connection (I’m thinking similar to an FBI board targeting a mafia family, but not quite that creepy). Your best chance of getting an interview is if you have a “warm” referral into the company (i.e. someone you’ve met who can refer you to someone inside the company whom they already know). That’s the goal. Continue to research the companies, the roles, the competitors, and the market so that you start sounding like you know what you’re talking about.
  • Start networking. I pulled out the Harvard Business School alumni directory, the University of Florida alumni directory, and the McKinsey alumni directory. I sent emails to guys 15 years older than me with “Hey Steve, I’m a fellow Florida grad, blah, blah, blah, can we have coffee?” I went to every meet-up that had the word “Stanford” in it. Before I knew it, one coffee led to another and after a while I started asking smarter questions and got stronger referrals.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of preparation and persistence throughout the process. It took me four hard months of preparation, research, focus, list-making and networking until August, 1996, when I received a warm referral into a little, 12-person startup named Hotmail. It ended up being the best job experience of my life and I was completely hooked.