Getting into the tech scene when you have no skills

It's not easy to get into the startup scene. When I moved to San Francisco, I got some great advice on how to get started.

There are 2 types of people out here. 
  • Non-technical. If you have no track record for marketing, analytics, product, sales or anything else of measurable value - you don't have the skills a startup needs. Your only value add is hustle. 
  • Technical. If you're a talented developer, all you have to do is apply for a job and they'll move you out here. 
If you're on the non-technical side, here's what I'd recommend to get started. 

1. Start reading
I'm going to keep this short, so you actually read them. 

Paul Graham is the intellectual voice of startups and cofounder of ycombinator. You should read all of his essays: http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html



Venture Hacks: http://venturehacks.com


Andrew Chen has some great posts on marketing: http://andrewchen.co/ 

2. Crash Conferences
The best thing that happened to me happened in conferences I attended. 

In 2008, I crashed the MySpace party after the Web 2.0 conference. I was turned away twice, but finally got in. I met Jeff Kirschner who brought me as an Associate Product Manager at a social media app company. I learned a tremendous amount about product, analytics and viral marketing. 

In 2010, I crashed Google Venture's VIP section at TechCrunch disrupt and met the Google Ventures team. They've been helpful ever since. 

I think of this as a self-filter. If you can't get in, you shouldn't get in. But, if you can, you should. You should be the latter. 

There's also a lot of meet up groups where you can learn skills. Go to ones on sales, marketing, analytics, entrepreneurship or anything else to constantly grow your skill set. 

3. Do favors and work for free
The problem with having no skills or track record is that it's not worth paying you. Plus, you're competing with a lot of other people who also don't have skills, in addition to people who do have skills. 

The other good thing about doing favors is that it'll also give you context to meet a lot of people. 

I didn't know anything about usability testing, but it was the one thing you don't need experience to do well. Just read Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug and it'll teach you how to set up usability testing as well as look for common usability mistakes. I did free usability testing for anyone who asked. 

4. Acquire skills
Here are some things that make you more valuable: BD, Analytics, marketing, usability, product, design, QA (testing), and more. A lot of people hold out for a job that will teach these skills. That's great, but most companies will only pay for experience (see #3). 

5. Find advisors
Zach Coelius advised me to crash conferences and do favors (see #2 and #3). It was the best advice I ever received.

Garry Tan had faith in HelloFax, when we were a barely functioning prototype. He later recommended us to YC. 

6. Learn how to code
You don't have to be an expert. Just make sure you know your way around the system. Being proficient at HTML / CSS should be a bare minimum. Although I hear a lot of complaints about it, check out http://www.w3schools.com/. It worked great for me. You can also check out http://www.codecademy.com/.

It's not easy to get into the startup scene. A lot of people come in with expectations that they can have a top Business Development or Product Management role, which prevents them from getting started. Be humble, hustle, take any startup job and love it. That's how you get started.