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5 Ways to Inspire Your Design Teams

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2018 99u Conference General Assembly

Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, leads a session at the 2018 99u Conference. Photos by Craig Samoviski.

As design educators, we at General Assembly prepare students for their careers — but how can we ensure designers continue to grow their skills beyond the classroom? Industry-leading work emerges from teams that persistently enrich themselves by fostering new skill sets and perspectives. But between deadlines, client fire drills, and day-to-day trivialities, a focus on growth can often be put on the back burner. In the long-term, this can result in uninspired designers who don’t grow to their full potential, and teams that opt for the easy way out instead of taking on risks, challenges, and explorations that drive innovation.

When Adobe approached General Assembly about leading a session at the 99u Conference — an annual gathering for creative professionals to share ideas and get inspired to help shape the future of the industry — we knew it would be a great opportunity to guide leaders in creating natural spaces for learning within their teams and workflows.

In our sold-out session “Onboard, Engage, Energize: Tactics for Inspiring a Crack Design Team,” Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead of GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive course, and Adi Hanash, GA’s former head of Advanced Skills Academies, shared insights on how directors and managers can structure spaces for learning within their teams, and encourage new approaches to problem-solving. The presentation was developed in collaboration with Senior Instructional Designer Eric Newman and me, GA’s director of product design.

At the event, we outlined the following five ways leaders can encourage their teams (and themselves) to keep learning and improving throughout their careers, including an exercise to spur creativity, reflection, and action. Read on to learn more, and find out how you can perform the exercise with your own team.

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The Skills Gap Is Driven by Missing Data Skills

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Modern marketers do all the same things traditional marketers have historically done to promote brands and drive sales, like conducting customer research, choosing target segments, positioning products, and designing marketing campaigns.

However, the digital era introduces a new set of constantly evolving channels and provides much more information about campaign performance than traditional advertising channels like television and print. To keep up, marketers need to develop problem-solving skills.

In our entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we represented these skills in three question categories:

1. Conceptualize: Understand the terminology, tools, and strategies in digital marketing.

2. Calculate: Use data to measure how campaigns are performing.

3. Interpret: Draw conclusions from data to optimize campaigns.

DM1 tackles each of these problem types, which means we can show you average scores across each type. In our exclusive report The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018, we analyzed a sample of 10,000 professionals across major Fortune 500 companies, growth-stage startups, and everything in between, who took the DM1 assessment between May 2016 and September 2017.

Among our top takeaways was that the skills gap in digital marketing is driven by missing data skills. Here’s how our test-takers did:

Average Score by Problem Type

Average Score by Problem Type Graph

The Calculate questions were clearly the most difficult, with test-takers only getting about two out of the six problems correct, on average.

We thought that perhaps four of the six questions were really hard or confusing, so we took a look at the success rate of each question in the Calculate section.

Success Rates for Calculate Questions on DM1

Success Rates For Calculate Graph

Our finding? It wasn’t a few really hard questions bringing the average down. Questions 4 and 6 both required the test-taker to complete more than one calculation, which could classify them as harder. However, people didn’t do well on the other questions, either. Question 1, which asked test-takers to calculate a single conversion rate, was the easiest, but the success rate of 45% is on par with the average success rate for Conceptualize and Interpret questions.

In short, test-takers struggled with the Calculate questions, revealing a shortcoming in processing data.

To ensure the Calculate questions were “good” and didn’t yield the low scores due to poor design, we did two things. First, we rechecked whether the questions were clearly written and unambiguous. Second, we looked at how top scorers performed compared to other test-takers on each question. Well-crafted questions help top scorers differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, and we can measure this by looking at the relative success of test-takers in each quartile.

So let’s go ahead and look at the relative success of each quartile on the Calculate questions.

Relative Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile

Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile Graph

In this chart, the more teal, the better the question was at differentiating Quartile 1, the top 25% of scorers, from the rest of the data set. We can see that every Calculate question helps quartiles 1 and 2 differentiate themselves as stronger performers than quartiles 3 and 4. In fact, questions 4, 5, and 6 were the top three most differentiating questions of the entire assessment. In each of these, Quartile 1 accounted for at least 50% of the right answers. Bottom line: These are “good” questions.

So, what are people actually getting wrong? Let’s dig into the easiest Calculate question (Question 1, with a 45% success rate) to find out. This question is about click-through rates, and doesn’t give the test-taker any multiple-choice options to plug in and try. Since click-through rates are a key metric in display advertising, savvy marketers should have familiarity with calculating them.

You spend $1000 on banner ads, you get 25k impressions and 250 clicks. What is your % click-through rate?

To solve the problem, test-takers have to understand that the click-through rate is the number of clicks (250) divided by the number of impressions (25,000), which yields an answer of 1.00%. We also accepted the answer as a decimal (0.01), in European notation (1,00%), and with fewer decimal places (1%, 1.0%). Not difficult! But getting it wrong means a shortcoming in math or understanding metrics, both of which impede ability to manage a successful digital marketing campaign.

Here are the most common ways test-takers got this question wrong:

1. They calculated the wrong rate, confusing the methodology for determining click-through rate with other formulas. Examples of alternate answers provided include:

  • Cost per impression ($1,000 ÷ 25,000 = 0.04)
  • Cost per click ($1,000 ÷ 250 = 4)
  • Clicks per dollar (250 ÷ $1,000 = 0.25)

2. They got the order of magnitude wrong when expressing percentage, e.g., 10% versus 1% versus 0.1%.

3. They expressed the answer as a decimal (0.01, which would be correct) but then added a percent symbol (0.01%, which is incorrect).

We saw these patterns across the other Calculate questions, too.

The most common mistake individuals made was not understanding how metrics relate to the various steps in a marketing funnel. For example, in email marketing, the funnel includes the following milestones: email sent, email received, email opened, click from email, conversion to lead, and, ultimately, conversion to sale. Misinterpreting the meaning of metrics at any of these key points can lead to misunderstanding how a campaign is performing down the line, culminating in the potential to make poor decisions with marketing budget, next steps, and beyond.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These discoveries and the rest of our analyses in The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018 have led us to three essential conclusions that, when incorporated into hiring and team-building strategies, can help transform organizations into relevant, competitive, digital marketing players.

1. Professionals need to build data literacy and technical know-how. Marketing leaders need to focus on building the data literacy of their teams and on reinforcing a robust technical understanding of their most important digital marketing channels.

2. Experience isn’t enough. Human resources and recruiting leaders must verify the digital marketing skills of candidates.Past experience and seniority do not provide enough evidence to make strong hiring decisions.

3. Companies should cultivate creative hiring strategies. Leaders can be innovative in how they source talent and highlight pathways into the marketing function to grow the pipeline of candidates.

For more depth behind the takeaways, and a look at the data we analyzed, download the whole paper. We offer a deep dive into the numbers driving our conclusions, including performance around specific questions and topics, and explain what this means in building a world-class modern marketing organization. Learn more about assessing your team’s skills here.

The State of Skills: Digital Marketing

We tested 10,000 professionals’ skills. Here’s what we learned.Download the Report

How the Marines Prepared Me for a Career in Coding

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While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in 2008, I wouldn’t have guessed that my time in the Marine Corps would have prepared me for a future in coding. At the time, the 30 Marines in my platoon had access to just one shared computer. It served only two functions: completing online training requirements, and looking up one’s online military record. I never suspected that nine years later I would be designing and building websites and applications in an intensive software engineering course, General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive, now called Software Engineering Immersive (SEI) course.

My path toward coding was a winding one. As a Marine on active duty, I was stationed in Japan, Kenya, Sudan, Italy, and Pakistan. Later, after transferring to the Marine Corps Reserve, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University. While studying at GW, I worked at the nonprofit Veterans Campaign, where I was tasked with helping to rebrand the organization. Though I had little technical experience, I created an entirely new web presence for the organization and migrated its old content to the new website.

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Startup Funding 101

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Tech startups often go through different life stages, and those stages greatly impact things like compensation, work-life balance, risk, and upside. It’s hard to know exactly what stage a company is in from the outside, but a great way to get an approximation is to look at the company’s fundraising history. Fundraising can feel like an entirely foreign language, but understanding it is essential as you pursue a career in startups.

Not all startups raise money from outside investors, but many do and they often follow a sequential order that looks something like 1) seed round, 2) Series A, 3) Series B, 4) Series C, and so on. While these funding rounds typically correspond with business milestones, they are not always an external indicator of success. Startup investors value high-risk opportunities and expect most of their portfolio to fail while one or two will be so successful that they make a nice return. Those successful startups are often called unicorns.

Stage 1: The Seed Round

The seed round is typically the first round of funding a startup will raise. It usually ranges from $50,000 to $2 million and often comes from angel investors. Angel investors are high-net-worth individuals who use only personal finances to make investments. At this stage, a company is usually just the founders and maybe a handful of employees. The company typically has a promising prototype of its product and will use the money to build it out and start putting it in the hands of customers.

Stage 2: Series A

After a seed round, a startup will typically raise a Series A round, which will range from $2 million to $15 million. This money will typically come from one or more venture capital firms. A venture capital (VC) firm is an investment firm that specializes in startups. At this stage, a company likely has some satisfied customers and will use the money to make improvements and start to market its product more heavily.

Stage 3: Series B

The next round is a Series B, which is usually upwards of $7 million. At this point, the startup will likely have some direction around its business model and will use the funding to try to capture a greater market share. Depending on the type of company, at this stage the organization could potentially be heading toward 100 employees.

Stage 4: Series C, D, E…

The Series C round is typically between $20 million and $100 million. At this point, a startup has a proven product, business model, and marketing engine. The new funding is about doubling the size the company. This is the stage at which most startups become mature. There isn’t really a limit to how many rounds of funding a startup can raise, but each subsequent round is always about growing and getting better.

Stage 5: Selling the Company (aka The Exit)

Why do investors pour all of this money into startups? Their hope is that one day the startup will make a nice return for them, which typically happens in one of two ways.

  • Acquisition: When a startup gets acquired by a larger company, the larger company pays a fixed amount to the acquiree’s shareholders. Examples of this include Facebook acquiring Instagram, Microsoft acquiring Skype, and Google acquiring YouTube.
  • Initial Public Offering (IPO): In this scenario, a company goes from being privately owned to publicly owned. This means that anyone can buy or sell shares on the stock market at any time, and the value of the company is variable. An acquisition or IPO is also when employees who have been given equity can cash out for big paydays.

Meet the Investors

Get to know the types of investors that could help fund your startup.

  • Angel: Angel investors are typically entrepreneurs who have wealth to share. They invest their own capital in startups and businesses they believe in, with their involvement in the company ranging anywhere from sole investment to a portion of ownership.
  • Venture capital: Venture capital firms (VCs) are established groups of investors who generally write the biggest checks. But unlike angel investors, they’re only interested in pitches from more established companies that have a solid business plan to share.
  • Peer-to-peer: Peer-to-peer lending is set up exactly as it sounds: Projects are listed on dedicated websites for funding consideration. If a potential lender sees a business idea that seems promising, the business and lender work out the terms with each other.
  • Personal: Though friends and family may not write checks worth billions, many startups report raising money from personal connections. Personal investors are unique in that they usually lend money based on trust rather than a solid business plan.
  • Banks: Similar to angel investors, VCs, and peer-to-peer lenders, a thorough description of your business is necessary in order to secure a bank loan. Because startups are often unproven, securing funding from a traditional investor like a bank is extremely rare.

Where to Find Startup Funding Information

As you research startup job opportunities, track companies’ growth stages and financials with these resources.

  • TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. It reports on just about every dollar raised in the startup world.
  • Google Alerts are a great way to keep tabs on a particular company so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in.
  • AngelList can help you stay ahead of the curve. It has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding, and is also an excellent job board.
  • Crunchbase provides financial and other data about companies. Check to see if a startup has enough money to make payroll the next three months.
  • General Assembly workshops and events offer access into top industry pros. Connect with peers and leaders in tech who can share experience, career tips, and insight into trends and funding.

Launch your career in startups.

Learn the ins and outs of the industry with our exclusive guide.Get the eBook

Get the eBook

Should I Work for a Startup Company?

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Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But if you’re serious about dipping your toes into the world of startups, it’s important that you hear some real talk before you start sending out resumes.

Working at a startup is not just a career. It’s a lifestyle.

Working at a startup can be an all-encompassing experience in which many people often devote their entire selves to the larger mission of the company. After a few months you may find that you’re giving elevator pitches on first dates when someone asks you tell them about yourself. Now, for the most part, it’s a special feeling to be so bought into your job that you lose track of where your company ends and you begin. But some of this newfound commitment is born out of necessity.

At an early-stage startup, survival of the company is not guaranteed. If the company isn’t growing at an exponential rate, then oftentimes it goes out of business or won’t be able to secure that next round of funding. It’s incredibly exciting because you will work harder than you ever have, hand in hand with people who will likely become some of your closest friends. But the pressure and responsibility is enormous. Before you start applying, make sure you’re ready for the challenge.

Every startup is different.

Saying “I want to work at a startup” is kind of like saying “I want to live in a city.” Sure, New Orleans and Kansas City have a lot in common, but there’s just as much, if not more, that makes them different. Startups vary in industry, size, amount of funding, values, priorities, work-life balance, and culture. Each of these components has a major impact on what your experience will be working at company, as well as interviewing there. The best way to differentiate one company from the next is to talk to the people who work there. If that option isn’t available to you, check out its company profile on The Muse. Things to watch out for are work-life balance, compensation, how goals and objectives are set, and what the founders value.

It’s important to remember that you’ll be joining a small organization, and as a result, each new addition impacts the collective culture more than they would in a larger, older company. Aligning with the people in the room will be far more important for sussing out whether a startup is for you than some of the traditional trappings like a ping-pong table, 24/7 keg, or working remotely.

There are no universal golden rules.

HR team? Internal recruiters? Formal hiring processes? Maybe. But chances are, the person who’s interviewing you may be the same person you’re working for. They may have hired someone before, they may not have. It’s entirely likely that you can interview for different jobs at the same company and be offered a role you didn’t even know you were a candidate for. As a result, there truly are no golden rules to getting hired at a startup.

There may be some trial and error, some failure, and a lot of confusion — and that’s OK! If you find yourself seeing a lot of rejection when you’re on the job hunt, the best thing you can do for yourself is be diligent in understanding why, and at what points, you aren’t getting the results you desire.

How to Break In to the Startup World

If you’re reading this, you probably want in — for your career, for your spirit, for your future. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook How to Get a Job at a Startup, discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. You’ll get a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Ready to pursue a career in startups?

Learn how to start your journey in our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook

A Guide to Startup Compensation

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f you’re pursuing a job at a startup company, one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider is compensation, which is commonly structured differently than at more mature companies. This is largely dependent on the life stage of a company, which can greatly impact compensation, as well as work-life balance, risk, and upside.

Compensation at a startup company is largely made up of three components: salary, benefits, and equity. The value of each depends on the stage of a company’s growth, the role, and an employee’s previous experience. A good rule of thumb, though, is this: The earlier a stage the company is in, the lower the salary and benefits will be, but the higher the equity will be. As the company matures, the scales start to tip in the other direction. Let’s talk in a bit more detail about each of these.

Salary

As mentioned above, salary is largely contingent on the company’s stage, the role, and the employee’s previous experience. There is no one-size-fits-all here. At an earlier-stage company, you can almost certainly expect a lower salary than the industry norm, regardless of your previous experience. As the company matures, the salaries of all positions start to get closer and closer to market rate. If you’re curious what to expect, we recommend playing with the salaries and equity tool by AngelList or researching salary ranges at specific companies on Glassdoor.

Benefits

Benefits at a startup are also largely dependent on stage. If good benefits are important to you, then an early-stage startup is likely the wrong place to work. However, as a startup grows, its benefits often become an extension of its culture and are used in all recruiting efforts. Take, for instance, Airbnb, which offers a $2,000 travel stipend to all employees. Other startups may allow pets at the office, or offer gym and other discounts, catered lunches, generous vacation policies, or flexible remote-working options.

Equity: Stock and Vesting Schedules

Equity is often the most confusing and intriguing part of a compensation package at a startup. Equity refers to ownership of the company, and this can be extremely valuable if the company ever sells or goes public (learn more about startup fundraising here and in our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup).

What’s important to know here is that no employee is ever “given” equity. Instead, employees often receive stock options, which are the option to purchase equity in the company at a heavily discounted price. You also are not given all of your stock options up front; rather, you earn an increasing amount of options over a four-year period. That four-year period is often referred to as a vesting schedule. The typical vesting schedule gives you one-fourth of your options at the end of your first year, and then 1/48th every month after that. Once your options vest, you have the right to purchase them (or not).

Getting into a company early has a big impact on the amount of stock options you receive and at what price. If you join a company early, you are often rewarded with a higher number of options at a much lower price. As the company matures, the risk gets lower and its ability to pay market-rate salaries improve, so you will typically receive fewer stock options and at a higher purchase price.

The benefit of purchasing your options is that eventually — fingers crossed — the company will sell or go public and you will get a big payday. For example, early Instagram employees turned their stock options into an average profit of nearly $8 million! And there’s the famous example of the Facebook muralist who was compensated in stock options that were eventually worth north of $200 million. Of course, these examples are far on the ludicrous side of the scale, and many people don’t make any money from stock options — but risky or not, they’re part of what makes joining a startup so exciting.

How to Negotiate Your Startup Offer

There are special considerations to make when negotiating your compensation at a startup. Macia Batista, a career coach at General Assembly’s New York campus, walks you through essential steps for building your ideal job offer.

  • Know your minimum number. Leverage sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to learn to learn what employers in your city are paying for similar roles and industries. Do your research ahead of time to fully understand the fair market value for the position, taking into account background and experience. Know your worth!
  • Provide a salary range. Determine a range for yourself, then ask for the upper half of it, so you can negotiate down if needed. Giving a range demonstrates flexibility. It gives you the opportunity to ask for more when an offer is presented, and negotiate other variables, like 401k contribution, remote work options, or vacation days. Tell the hiring manager, “I’m targeting roles with a range of X, but I’m focused on the entirety of the package including culture, growth, and mission.”
  • Consider the whole package — not just salary. Compensation goes beyond your paycheck. When weighing a job offer, look at factors like bonuses, equity, health care and retirement plans, transportation costs, schedule flexibility (e.g., working from home and vacation time), and potential for growth at the company.
  • Ensure your pay increases with funding. If you’re joining an early-stage startup, equity (stock options) is oftentimes part of the compensation package, since these offers often fall below market salary. However, you should be be earning a fair market-value salary as soon as the company raises real money. I recommend signing a written agreement with your employer to guarantee a pay increase once the company has more capital.

How to Land Your Dream Startup Job

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But before you find first startup job, there are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, we’ll help you find your dream startup job through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Get firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

How to Land a Job at a Startup

Learn how to start your journey with our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook

Why Work for a Startup?

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Sometime around 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, a massive shift began to take place across cities, small towns, and universities.

As the comforts and securities of traditional careers began to dry up, excitement in the tech-startup world was reaching a fever pitch. These companies seemed to spin up overnight, raising millions of dollars and impacting millions, if not billions, of people. By 2009, with the economy still reeling, more new businesses were formed than during any time in the previous 15 years. Playing the “safe route” in traditional industries wasn’t safe anymore; the wealth of new opportunities emerging in the tech-startup world transformed how people conceived of, and built, their careers.

One of the more the famous stories from this period was that of Instagram, a two-year-old photo-sharing app with 13 employees that was bought by Facebook for $1 billion. To put this into comparison, Walmart, which had thousands of employees, hundreds of physical locations, and almost 30 years of history, was worth only $31 million in 2017’s dollars when it was first listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1970. Never before could a company get started so quickly and cheaply and be worth so much.

But it wasn’t just speed and money that fueled the growth of tech startups. There was also a larger cultural shift in what people wanted out of their careers. Flexibility, freedom, meaning, and purpose started to become intertwined with people’s career aspirations. Tech startups provided the perfect respite for all of this. The small size of the organizations allowed for jobs in which one could work intimately with teams and technology that had the potential to impact millions of people across a broad range of industries.

Since the Great Recession, startups and startup jobs have become a major force in society and nearly all net new job creation. They’re sexy, growing, and provide an opportunity to find meaning and purpose in your work (and sometimes even get you rich).

How I Paved My Path in the Startup World

When I was 24 years old, I landed a job at a 15-person startup as a part-time contractor selling unused inventory for a small commission. It was barely enough money to pay the rent. Within four months, I was sent overseas to launch the company’s office in London. Within one year, I was running all of its operations in Europe, and three years after that I was the head of a global business unit that touched tens of thousands of customers. Now that tiny startup — General Assembly — employs over 500 people and trains individuals and corporate teams in many cities across four continents.

More important to me than the roller-coaster-type growth I experienced is how much I loved working at that startup. It challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged before. I worked on incredible projects that changed people’s lives, I got experience across a broad range of opportunities that would have never been afforded to me at a more mature company, and I got to work with some of the smartest, most ambitious people I’ve met in my life. While I may not work at General Assembly today (though I’m still a proud part of the community), I was inspired by that experience to write an eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup.

How to Break In to the Startup World

If you’re reading this, you probably want in to the world of startups — for your career, for your spirit, for your future. Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In How to Get a Job at a Startup, you’ll get a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Ready to dive into the startup world?
Learn how to start your journey in our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook

What Is a Startup?

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What exactly is a startup? A startup is simply a business attempting to bring a new product or service to market. While startups are known for being young companies in the tech industry, the truth is that a startup can exist in any industry and can be any age.

The real difference between startups and traditional businesses is that startups operate in conditions of extreme uncertainty. For example, most startups operate with unfinished products, undefined business models, and unproven strategies. The whole journey of a startup is about bringing clarity to these questions and figuring out what the company and its good or service truly is. It’s that level of uncertainty, and figuring things out as you go, that gives startups their defining culture and what makes them such interesting places to work. The team is literally inventing the future on the fly.

Every startup passes through a series of stages or life cycles, which are marked by important milestones. Once these conditions are met — proof of concept, product-market fit, raising capital, scaling the business, and building out systems, explained in detail below — the company graduates from startup to mature business.

What Is a Tech Startup?

Tech startups use technology as a core part of their product, delivery, or marketing. For example, the taxi business is as old as the automobile itself. But companies like Lyft and Uber use technology — in this case phone apps — to make it easier for people to hail a taxi, provide directions to a destination, tip a driver, provide feedback, and more. Likewise, a few years ago if you wanted to watch TV, you’d need to install cable or a satellite dish. Now, on-demand video-streaming companies like Netflix and YouTube have led to over 22 million people getting rid of cable in 2017, upending a nearly 70-year-old industry. In both instances, companies leveraged technology to completely change the game in their respective industries. This is known as disruption, and all tech startups strive to be major disruptors.

The technical skills that are largely prized at tech startups include web developmentdata science and analysisuser experience designproduct management, and digital marketing.

The 5 Stages of the Startup Life Cycle

While every tech startup’s journey is different, each typically follows this pattern:

  • Proof of concept. In the earliest of stages, founders build a prototype, or early version of a product, and try to establish whether there is any demand for it.
  • Finding product-market fit. Next, they will bring on a small team to refine the product and bring it to market. Product-market fit occurs when consumer demand proves there is a real need for the product.
  • Raising capital. As a startup graduates from each step, the founders will often need to raise money to fuel their growth. This stage may occur in several cycles (learn more in our guide to startup funding or our How to Get a Job at a Startup eBook).
  • Scaling the business. A scalable business is one that can perform the same or similarly regardless of how big it becomes. The process of scaling includes attempting to grow revenues exponentially while not breaking operations.
  • Building out systems. If the startup can achieve the necessary level of growth and stability, the company invests in building out the infrastructure needed to support a larger organization.

How to Launch a Career in Startups

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, you’ll find a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Launch your career in startups.
Learn how to start your journey with our exclusive guide.

Download the eBook

What Are Common Startup Job Titles and Roles?

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It takes a village to raise a startup — or at least a few dedicated individuals who can do a village’s worth of work. At a growing company, roles and duties can change quickly, and many startup employees end up wearing a lot of hats as they tackle the most important needs for the business at any given moment.

Here’s a glance at some of the key roles and skill sets that drive most startups.

Founder

The founder is the person (or people) who starts the company. Some founders, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, stay with the organization for long, or permanently, after it takes off. However, it’s not uncommon for a founder to leave at any stage of the startup’s life. Founders come from diverse career backgrounds, but what they all have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit, some level of business acumen, and a clear product vision. Startup founders don’t need to be experts in web developmentUX design, or the other disciplines below, but they should have a high-level understanding of the key skills needed to launch a tech-driven business. In order to see their vision through, founders should be strong leaders who can guide their company through funding, staffing, and scaling.

Web Development

While designers create the professional look and feel of a website or web app, web developers generate the code that makes it work. The technology that supports eCommerce sites, blogs, social networks, video streaming services, and more is built by developers.

  • Key skills: Front-end web development (HTMLCSSJavaScriptresponsive designJSON, AJAX, AngularJS), back-end web development (Ruby on RailsAPIs, Node.js, Heroku, MongoDB), collaboration, problem-solving, product development, programming fundamentals
  • Popular job titles: Chief technology officer, VP of engineering, senior web developer, junior web developer, software developer, full-stack engineer, mobile developer

User Experience (UX) Design

UX designer determines the interaction experience of a user with a website, app, device, or piece of software. It’s all about anticipating a user’s needs when using a product, and ensuring an intuitive, impactful, and delightful experience.

  • Key skills: User research, interaction design, interface design, wireframing, prototypingusability testingcustomer journey mapping, card sorting, information architectureaffinity mappingservice design, product design, collaboration, working with clients
  • Popular job titles: UX designer, user interface (UI) designer, product designer, user researcher, information architect

Product Management

Product managers are like mini CEOs. They are responsible for identifying market opportunities, defining the product being built, and determining the return on investment. They conduct customer interviews, user testing, and data analysis, and distill the insights gained into an implementable strategy. They then lead the product team to bring that strategy to life.

  • Key skills: Customer development, Agile and Lean methodologiesSWOT analysis, communication, prototypinguser interviews, wireframing and storyboarding, business model design, market research, project management, pricing and financial modeling
  • Popular job titles: Chief product officer, product manager, product lead, product owner

Data Science and Analysis

Data experts organize and collect data from a variety of sources, evaluate it, derive insights from it, and make actionable recommendations to drive the business.

  • Key skills: Pythonmachine learningSQL, UNIX, Git, R, TableauExcel, modeling techniques, data visualization, big data, natural language processing, statistics, critical thinking, storytelling and presentation skills
  • Popular job titles: Data scientist, data analyst, quantitative researcher, machine learning engineer, data science analyst, data engineer.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketers combine traditional marketing tactics with new technologies. Their domains include areas like social media, search engine optimization, online advertising, and content creation. The best digital marketers often utilize both creative and quantitative skills.

  • Key skills: Email marketingbrandingcontent strategysocial mediapaid social, customer relationship management (CRM), search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), marketing analytics, business strategy
  • Popular job titles: Chief marketing officer, director of digital marketing, digital marketing manager, email marketing manager, digital marketing coordinator, content producer, content marketer, content strategist, social media manager

How to Land a Job at a Startup

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. In order to break in, it helps to know the ins and outs of the startup world, and the steps to take to become a candidate who stands out from the crowd — plus some of the skills mentioned above.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, you’ll get a concise how-to guide for finding your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

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The Path to a Diverse, Vibrant Tech Community

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CodeBridge General Assembly Per Scholas Graduation

Anthony Pegues, second from right, with Per Scholas CEO Plinio Ayala (far right), and fellow graduates from CodeBridge, a web development training partnership between General Assembly and Per Scholas.

Anthony Pegues was a part-time janitor in the suburbs of New York City who sought a way into a rewarding career. He saw tech — and web development specifically — as a viable path, but didn’t have the resources to get the skills he needed to be ready for a job in the field.

Unfortunately, Pegues’ situation is all too common. There are plenty of tech jobs available, and people who are eager to fill them. But many passionate, prospective developers from underserved and overlooked communities do not have the resources, time, or opportunities to pursue their passions and get the skills they need to transform their careers.

At General Assembly, our central mission is to create pathways so that everyone with the dedication and commitment to reshape their career can do so, regardless of their prior experience or ability to pay for the training they need to get there. To this end, we’ve spent the last few years launching and refining strategies and programs that break down barriers and contribute to the diversity of the tech sector.

But there’s still much more work to do.

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