Earlier this summer, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the next chapter of my career. I’m really excited to share that I’ve joined Felt! Although we’re not quite ready to share what we’re building, the teaser is that the product is a new collaborative experience in an under-explored medium, with a deep focus on climate (vague, I know).
In this post, I’d like to share some of the reasons why I decided to join Felt, especially since this is a time when it’s a buyers market when it comes to looking for opportunities as a software engineer.
I had gone through the same exercise of looking for what’s next not too long ago. As we were expecting the arrival of our first baby towards the end of 2020 and I was wrapping up my latest startup adventure with AgentRisk, I found myself at a crossroads.
On one hand, I had the opportunity to start another startup as a technical cofounder, in a very promising domain, and with a very solid cofounder that knew the space very well. On the other hand, I had the chance to join a very young but rapidly-growing team as the most senior engineer and work on hard scalability challenges that come with high growth. Not knowing what first-time fatherhood is going to be like, I chose the latter, as the responsibilities were narrower and more well defined.
However, I soon found out that I had made the wrong choice. No, I did not regret not getting on the founder bandwagon at this stage. But rather having made a poor choice of which team to join (I had a bunch of really great offers at hand). Just a few months in, I had found myself being deeply unhappy at work, something that I unfortunately often brought back home. Which is why leaving that team (getting kicked off actually, if we want to call a spade a spade) was probably the best thing that could have happened. Interestingly, not too long after my departure, a couple of the best people I had worked with also decided to leave, for some of the same reasons.
But what went wrong? In short, the main issue was that, when making my decision on which team to join, I over-indexed for the financial potential. This by itself is not necessarily a bad criterion, but it’s insufficient on its own. Meanwhile, I under-indexed on other criteria that are far more important, at least in my perspective.
As I didn’t want to make a wrong choice on what to do next, I decided to spend some time refining my framework of criteria before even talking to any team.
The four Ps
Aside from personal introspection, I also turned to other people’s experiences for inspiration. Specifically, I read a ton of “I’ve joined X” blog posts by people in senior and/or leadership engineering roles. One of those that resonated with me the most was this one by my dear friend and former coworker, Diwaker. That was no surprise: I’ve often turned to him for advice on big life decisions, as his methodical and thoughtful approach is something that I’ve always admired.
Not at all shamefully, my framework ended up being heavily inspired by Diwaker’s. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or something like that :)
I call this framework for evaluating companies “The four Ps”, based on its four key criteria: people, product, purpose, potential. Let me go more in detail below.
First, the most important criterion when joining a team, especially when it’s a small/young one, is the people. You need to make sure that your value systems align and that you can both inspire and deeply respect each other. Don’t forget: at the earliest stages of a company you’re building the foundation; any small crack or weak point will only accentuate later. Be aware of any yellow/red flags and explicitly handle them or dismiss them. As Danny Meyer says: if you’re not aware, you’re nowhere.
Second, the product needs to be something you deeply believe in. So much so, that part of you secretly wishes you had built that product yourself first. Such ownership is, for me at least, the only way that you can bring your best self and go above and beyond when building the product. You should be the product’s #1 fan and at the same time its biggest critic. This needs to come organically, you can’t fake this.
Third, you need to align with the company’s purpose and mission. When the purpose for doing what you do is something that deeply resonates with you, your motivation to do your best work is unmatched. You may not be great with words, but you should be the most passionate representative of what your company is doing and why it’s important. On that note, working on important things (whatever this means to you) is also a good hint that you’re on a path to making the right choice.
Finally, you need to be convinced that the company has great potential to be successful and make a dent in the market. At the same time, there is enough potential for you to achieve outsized career growth as the company grows. This is a huge topic and one that many people much smarter than me think about all day. From my experience, a lot of it boils down to de-risking. For example, startups where the founders have done this before successfully tend to succeed more often. Startups that are attacking important problems where the customer is a business and those customers are willing to pay for the solution is another one. Those with well-thought out product-led growth strategies also have a better chance to win. The list goes on.
Putting the above framework to practice, my choice to join Felt ended up being one of the easiest choices I have made. So much so that it almost felt (pun!) inevitable. As soon as I met the two founders, Can and Sam, it was an instant click. Although I can’t share yet what Felt is building, I cannot think of a better founding team to bring the company’s vision to life. They also have managed to bring some of the best investors to back this venture.
It was also great to get to know the rest of the team IRL, visiting Felt’s beautiful office in Oakland. If you’re interviewing with a small team and you can do it, I highly recommend doing the same. There’s so much more you get from real-life interactions with the people that could become your second family for the next few years.
What’s more, I’m thrilled that the backend for the product is written in Elixir/Phoenix! In fact, I first became aware of Felt by seeing Can’s posts in the Elixir Slack. When we share more about the product, it will become evident why Elixir was the right choice. But for now, I can’t help but feel excited to keep using my favorite language in my daily job.
I can’t wait to share more about what we’re building! Not often does one get to work on first-to-market products that can have a huge positive impact. In the meantime, if any of this sounds interesting, we are definitely hiring for both front-end and back-end roles.