Landing a job at a startup in San Francisco ft. Alan Shen @ Pave
How do you break into the tech world and what’s startup life REALLY like? Find out in our latest Hatch Chat with Alan Shen @ Pave (part 1).
Picture this... You might be a fresh college graduate or in your final year of studies. How and where do you start your career? If you've been wondering about what it's like to work at a startup, then this is for you. Startup life sounds cool, especially when you're imagining a Google-style office with a pingpong table. But what is it really like to work for a fast growing startup and is it right for you?
We believe in trying new things throughout your career - it's the only way to truly figure out your passions, strengths and values over time. To help you find inspiration for your next career move, we're bringing back Hatch Chats - a series of conversations, stories and advice from our very own community of people and teams.
In this feature, our co-founder Adam chats to Alan Shen, Data Account Executive at Pave about landing a job at a startup in San Francisco. Get inspired by Alan's journey on how he started, how he's going and what advice he would give to people looking to launch their careers in the tech world.
Alan is a Data Account Executive at Pave. He joined this HR tech startup as their 12th employee - talk about major startup vibes! He initially joined in Sales Development and grew fast into his current role today. Fun fact! Alan previously studied in Sydney and landed his first part-time job while studying through Hatch! He's now based in San Francisco and exploring all the possibilities of his career.
Watch our highlights below or scroll to the bottom for the full video.
Breaking into the tech world without experience
When you first moved to San Francisco, how did you break into tech?
So when I first moved to San Francisco, I actually really didn't have anything lined up for myself. I was a grad with no grad job and really what I ended up doing the first step was I knew I needed to make money, to pay rent and without anything really set up and not really being sure what I was wanting to do.
I actually entered and the way I got the internship was I listened to this podcast called My First Million that I really liked. And I cold emailed Sam Parr, the founder, just telling him that, "Hey, I would like to work for you. Like, I'd be your intern to help with your podcast." And I ended up getting the opportunity that way, making 20 bucks an hour.
And that was my first real experience breaking. Yeah. Just like breaking into tech.
Standing out to land your first big opportunity.
What made you stand out?
So with Sam, his whole thing is because the hustle was a newsletter business. His whole strength was copywriting and he loves sharing a lot of tips online. And I actually took his template on how to cold email people and use that to email him. And I think that definitely stood out in terms of just being very proactive and hinting at the fact that, "Hey, I did my homework, I know what I'm doing." And I just really was proactive about wanting to wanting to work for him and be around folks like him.
You need to put yourself out there and try new things.
It sounds like you did a good job. It was just putting yourself in different places, like in different teams, like getting to know different people, just kind of putting yourself out there in the world.
100% accurate. I think I've always loved tinkering, running projects. I mean, all throughout uni, I had a quote unquote startup called lazy liquor. We're doing liquor delivery for, you know, for college parties. I ran an Instagram page to sort of see if I liked doing marketing. Because that's what I studied (marketing) and grew that to 80,000 and was, you know, trying to do deals off of that. So I think it was always really intellectually stimulated by trying new things. And so, yeah, I would definitely say I've always been very interested in and just trying out different opportunities to see what the objective of figuring out what I liked.
Not sure where to start your career? Find people who inspire you.
It sounds like being at Pave, within an organization that has experienced salespeople that you can learn from is an important factor of you yourself developing those skills?
It's the pure reason why I decided to work at Pave - because of my current head of sales, Armand. When I was trying to leave Prairie and I wanted to figure out where to go next. I looked at all the top 20 VCs and look at who they invested in the last six months. I looked through every single company and with the companies I was interested in, I'll look through their LinkedIn to see who worked there.
While scrolling through a page, I saw Armand Farrokh, his name, which I was like, wait, hold on a second. My friends are sending me this podcast, 30 Minutes to Presidents' Club - that's him. He runs the sales podcast! He probably knows what it's talking about if he has a popular sales podcast. So I emailed him and, you know, the amount of learning that I've had just from him and all the other folks that have been on our team, it's just been like incredible. And yes, that, that was like the sole reason why I didn't really know what paved it and be honest. I was like, oh, HR cool.
Like I want to work with this guy. That was, that was really what drove my decision.
When you're one of the first few employees hired by a startup, it's a different ball game.
You joined Pave as their employee #12, and Pave has experienced very fast growth. What challenges have you experienced in growing a startup from such an early stage?
I think at a macro level, the beauty of working at a high growth startup is you get to fail a lot faster than you would typically at any other job, right? You go to a large corporation, you're getting put into this 8-week training and onboarding that everyone's done a million times and it's built to scale, right. To make it very easy for you to become proficient at your role. But when you're at a startup, you're messing up all the time, literally all the time and the amount I think of of times that messed up, it's like, I can't even count on my hands. Like, how embarrassing I was when I first started. I think one example was how do I present myself to be a useful employee?
And I think a lot of that came from being massively insecure about myself. You know, I joined a company where everyone was older than me. I was the youngest person there. Everyone had work experience, worked at really great companies. And I was super insecure about my career and myself transparently. And so what I used to do is I used to in all hands, like call out or challenged my CEO, just because to me, I'm like, oh, I need to show them that I'm capable of. And I'm smart. And I'm so lucky.
And just so grateful that my colleagues were like very open with giving me good feedback and being like, Hey, this is not the right way to do it, but here are the right ways for you to become useful and be good at your job and just, you know, be a good colleague and be a good person. So, I think that was one challenge I had just like learning how to grow into myself. How to become confident, how to be okay with being myself at the company.
And because really when you start leaning into your strengths, that's when I think you start excelling. And I had a really tough time doing that when I first started.
It's normal to not be great and love everything about your work.
On owning strengths and overcoming the tasks you don't like at work.
I think part of like figuring out what you're good at and what you're not good at that part of experience is really important within Sales as well. There's so many things that, you know, I think I enjoy it, but also I totally dislike as well. And my team's going to hate me if they hear this, but I hate cold calling. Like I really, I really don't like it. But one of the challenges I had to come to face was that - you gotta do it. Like, this is part of your job and learning how to like be efficient and do well at things that you not necessarily strong at, or you're not necessarily good at.
And, you know, learning, especially, I got a lot of great lessons from Armand, like, "How do you make this just a more acceptable, a better experience for yourself? Can you time block it to 50 dials in an hour?" And when you're trying to do that, you don't have to drag it on. Learning all these almost coping mechanisms within your professional skill set, I think is very important as well. And just knowing that, like, you're not gonna be good at everything. You're not gonna like everything, but how do you get around and become good at those things that you maybe you're not good at?
Taking on feedback is the best way you can learn fast in your career.
On having humility and getting feedback from your team to develop faster in your career.
I think it's so important. I think, you know, any sort of mindfulness exercise - therapy, journaling, like anything where you're really just putting yourself out there and being comfortable. I guess being yourself is so important. And, I think part of this is a very important key ingredient to this is having folks around you that are open to giving you good feedback and not bad feedback and have, you know, their heart is in the right place, they want to help develop you. And they want to help and be honest with you, that's so important. And, you know, I can be as real as I can, I can, but if there's not people helping me, I wouldn't be here today.
Startups need all hands on deck. You may get to own projects at a startup faster than at a corporate.
You were talking about the difference in being thrown into a startup versus a much more structured entry point in a corporate. Given that you've been thrown early stage into a high-growth startup, what kind of projects or initiatives have you had the opportunity to own that maybe you wouldn't have had the chance if it was at a larger corporate?
It's been just so fast compared to what could happen. So I've been here for maybe since year and a half, maybe since January last year. Typically this is if I've been here for 18 months and like at Salesforce, for example, I'm still an SDR, right? You're still going through the process because they're telling you, these are the steps you got to take.
I think a project that I was working on recently that again, I had to build up a lot of competence and trust within my leadership team to allow me to do this is I worked on an acquisition of a company. So we acquired one of the biggest competitors in our space and Armand, my Head of Sales, was like "Hey, like you let your, the big zero-to-one guy! Hey, come help figure out, how are you going to convert as many, like all 4,000 of these people integrate them into our systems, especially as best as possible."
And I had no idea what I was doing - that was very hard. And, but the fact that, I again asked a ton of questions and was learning like, "How do I segment people? How do I prioritize?" And you're forced to be in a spot where you really have to deliver and learn, or else there's a lot on the line.
I would never have gotten this opportunity if it wasn't for being at Pave. I mean, I'm literally like a year, like six months out of being an SDR - it's not normal, but the fact that they've invested a lot in me and I put the work in as well. There's just a lot of, you know, great opportunities that I've been able to, to receive.
If you're early in your career, just get after it.
A lot of people watching this chat will be early in their own career. Thinking about the journey you've had today to get you where you are, what advice would you want to give them?
I would really say, bias for action. That's definitely one of the big ones for me. If there's that person that you want to learn from just email them, chances are, if you're nice about it, especially when you're in college, people are gonna give you time. They're going to give half an hour, right. If there's a job opportunity that you think or you want to learn about something, you want to go work somewhere, you want to know what it's like, just email them. There are so many tools out there for you to find out what someone's email is. It never hurts to try. And the worst thing that can be they can say is no. And I think it's very sales-y of me to say, but I really think that getting after it and getting consistent feedback is really the best way to figure out what what's going to work best for you.
So if there's one phrase I can throw on a billboard is: Just get after it.
Thanks for tuning in!
Stay tuned for our next feature, where we talk to Alan about why Sales could be the best career for you to explore. Can't wait? Watch the full Hatch Chat below.