As our team continues to grow, we make it a point to hire awesome and talented people. Some come through conventional means and others, like Amar, come on board against all odds. We asked Amar to narrate the tale and our co-founders Mike and Devon to add their own perspective along the way.
Mike: Amar joined us 3 weeks ago after a long trial of hunting down and applying for the “Growth Hacker” position we posted on StartupNorth. We couldn’t be happier with his progress, hunger and efficiency. Over to you Amar!
Amar: I was out of school for more than a year with a few failed business ideas under my belt and was not having any luck getting a startup job through conventional means. Fed up, I took an unconventional approach when applying to Vidyard. It took 5 months, 9 interviews, and hundreds of hours spent on learning how to code, preparing presentations and writing case studies.
The entire process required me to push myself far out of my comfort zone. There were many times when I felt like I was never going to reach my goal of being a part of the Vidyard team. Here’s my story:
I graduated from the University of Toronto in June of 2011 and spent about 6 months testing out some business ideas (they all failed). In January 2012 I started to look at joining a startup in the valley (California) and spent another 6 months interviewing at companies both large and small. However, each company that was interested in hiring me had the same problem: they couldn’t get me the necessary visa (the H1B). It was at this point that I decided to focus on local companies.
I first heard about Vidyard and their growth hacker opening on Startup North from a friend. The posting said that they were looking for someone with either a ton of experience or someone who was hungry and able to learn fast. That second bit really resonated with me and I sent in my resume and cover letter the next day, hoping to get an interview. One week later: nothing. So I sent Michael Litt (CEO and Co-Founder) an email… but that didn’t work either.
Mike: The e-mail looked like a copy/pasted general cover letter/hire me e-mail. I took a quick glance at it and never looked again.
The e-mail: You have a new message from Amar Chahal:
Hey Mike, My name is Amar Chahal and I’m a recent graduate from U of T who has worked on web startups over the past 2 years. As someone who is passionate about metrics and data analysis, what you’ve built at Vidyard is really exciting and I can’t wait to see what comes next. I’d love to drive out west to Kitchener and chat with you about Vidyard sometime soon. In particular, I’m interested in the growth hacker position. I want to become a growth expert and help take Vidyard to the next level. It may not be easy, but I will put in 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until I get there. I’m coming from back-to-back startup failures from which I have learned a lot and have become even hungrier. I’m committed to working at startups that I’m passionate about, Vidyard being one of them, even if I work for free. I’ve already submitted a resume through Startup North. Let me know if you’d be interested in chatting further. I can be in Kitchener as soon as tomorrow morning. Thanks, Amar
Mike: Amar actually sent this to my about.me page. I’m rarely contacted through that resource and don’t remember seeing this message. At this time (and in retrospect) the only thing that would have really grabbed my attention would have been a tweet or a phone-call.
Breaching the Comfort Zone
Amar: It was at this point that most people (myself included) would have given up and moved on to another company. However, I was too frustrated after being turned down everywhere else (for one reason or another) and realized that on paper, I didn’t look too great (Bachelors Degree in Science and a bunch of failed business ideas). I was still very interested in Vidyard because of the opportunity to learn and grow at a hot startup.
Earlier that year I was introduced to the recession-proof graduate and Tristan Walker (of Foursquare fame) by my good friend and mentor Raj. I used what these guys did to get their jobs as my archetype. I think the most important thing I did to get the job was push just a little bit further when things looked the worst. There were definitely times where I thought it wouldn’t happen and everyone was telling me to move on but, since I had nothing to lose, I just kept pushing forward.
Mike: What a baller.
Amar: The first thing I did was start a blog where I would analyze some aspect of Vidyard’s marketing and discuss what I would do instead. For example I talked aboutCTAs (or lack thereof) in the blog and the new user experience. I published an article every other day for two weeks and would notify Michael and Devon with a tweet. This approach landed me a day of interviews at Vidyard HQ where Michael also had me prepare a marketing case study for the company.
Mike: The tweets worked. I thought “An independent (and pretty smart dude) writing content about improving my business? This guy is worth talking to.”
Devon: I remember waking up to the first tweet and seeing the title of the Blog – was very impressed that someone had put together something directed specifically at us. Mike and I chatted that day about the first set of recommendations, we’d thought about these things before, but were impressed that an outsider picked them out immediately.
Amar: Although the blog got me in the door, it most certainly wasn’t enough to land me the job. After the first set of interviews, I followed up weekly for 4 weeks but couldn’t get a response from Michael. At this point I was pretty frustrated and everyone I was getting advice from was telling me to move on. I decided to send a final email but I didn’t word it like the traditional “thanks for the opportunity” rejection note. This is what I wrote:
Hey Michael and Devon,
As you might know, I’ve been trying to get in touch over the past few weeks. Strangely, I haven’t heard back since I sent in that case study more than four weeks ago. Just to be crystal clear, I’m still interested in working at Vidyard and since I see it as a huge learning opportunity, I’m even willing to work for free for a period of time. With that said, it would be fantastic to hear back from you guys with an update so that we can be on the same page.
If I don’t hear back, it would probably be safe to assume that you’re not interested (which would be unfortunate considering I haven’t even had the chance to meet Devon and discuss the case study with you guys). In that case, thanks for the opportunity. However, I’m still really interested in growth/distribution hacking and committed to learning more every day so Michael, I would really appreciate it if you could recommend me to some other companies like we discussed when we met last month at the Tannery.
Either way, I’ve learned a lot and I’m grateful for that.
Thank you guys,
Mike: This e-mail made me feel like a complete and utter ass-wipe. Running a startup is busy, some things fall to the way-side. The honesty of this message really hit home – he had applied himself so much and definitely deserved a chat with my co-founder.
As an aside, at this point we had figured out that we needed someone to help with content generation as well as higher-level strategy. We weren’t looking for the growth hacker anymore but Amar was persistent enough to keep talking to – he lacked any and all experience we were looking for but had already consistently proven that he was willing to learn.
Amar: I got a response almost immediately. I was to have a phone conversation with Devon in a couple of days. In my opinion, this was a step backwards from the in-person interviews I had four or five weeks earlier. Regardless of how I felt, I knew I was on thin ice and I really needed to impress Devon so instead of just speaking with him on the phone, I decided to do a webinar on marketing at Vidyard. The night before our talk, I sent Devon an email notifying him of the change in plans and I delivered the presentation over Google Hangouts the next morning. Looking back, I’m not sure if he was impressed or not but I knew that, once again, I went above and beyond what was expected of me.
Devon: As Mike said, we had started to move on from the idea of hiring a dedicated growth hacker given the hire of a content person, but the hustle was impressive, and I liked how passionate he was about the chance to work with us.
The notice about a switch from a call to a Webinar was slightly concerning. I was a little skeptical of an outsider’s ability to tell me things I didn’t already know about my business, and I was afraid it would just make it more difficult to tell him “No” – something I considered a foregone conclusion at that point.
Amar: After the talk, Devon had me prepare some marketing action points and I threw in a SEO case study as well (note that we’re in September now and this whole process started in June).
Devon: I was impressed with the webinar. Mostly because we saw eye to eye on many of the things he’d like to tackle first. My biggest concern was Amar seemed to be someone who was capable of coming up with things we should address, but wasn’t actually someone to execute on those ideas. If we were going to hire a growth hacker, I wanted him to hack things on his own, rather than piling work on an already overloaded Developer team.
Amar: Again, I didn’t hear anything from Devon for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Vidyard released a monthly newsletter with a new format and I sent Michael an email where I tore it apart and Michael seemed to appreciate the feedback.
Michael: Amar had some really great points in this e-mail. Things we/I had overlooked like segmentation in user-base and even the Facebook link redirecting to the wrong page. Amar came across as a bit of an ass (which I liked) because we had clearly made some mistakes that he noticed and wasn’t afraid to bring to my attention.
Amar: So there I was, once again, not really making any progress and everyone was telling me to forget about it and move on (again). One day, when I had pretty much given up, I noticed in my Twitter feed that Michael was speaking at the KWB2B Marketers Meet Up in a couple of hours. I debated myself on whether or not I should go. I asked friends if they thought it was a good idea and they basically told me I was an idiot and that I should move on. So what did I do? I hopped in my dad’s car and drove to Waterloo.
Mike: Halfway through my presentation, I saw Amar sitting in the crowd. I thought, “%$&#, there’s Amar – he’s here. I’m going to have to talk to him. About what? I don’t know – I can’t believe he’s still looking for a role with us.”
I tried to sneak out. He found me, we went and grabbed a drink with the conference organizers.
Amar: I’m still not sure what drove me to do that. I was way out of my comfort zone but looking back, this was probably the turning point in the whole process. In other words, if I didn’t decide to drive out west and show up at that conference unexpectedly, hoping to have a chat with Michael, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.
We ended up chatting at length about the job and how the required skillset for the position had evolved. Michael and Devon now needed someone who could code. As I drove home, I told myself that if I learned how to code, the job was mine. I fired off an email to Devon asking him what a growth hacker would need to proficient in with regards to coding. He replied with some ideas about what I would hypothetically focus on and I got to work.
Mike: He’s right… This was the TSN turning point. It wasn’t the fact that he showed up OR that we talked about the role. It’s that he told me he had found a job running arbitrage on <insert popular ecommerce site here> giftcards against <insert popular auction site here>. I love hacky things and I loved how he had gone about building this “business”. If he could be that creative external to Vidyard, how creative could he be internal to Vidyard?
Devon: I remember Mike saying to me the next day “You’ll never guess who showed up to the conference”, and telling me to expect an email asking about what Amar should start to look into. Amar had already sent it though, and I’d set him on his way with a few resources to start with.
Changing the World
Amar: The plan was to learn the basics and show Michael and Devon that I could move fast with new material. I gave myself about 1.5 months (until November 1st) to get where I wanted to be in HTML, CSS, JS, and PHP in the context of WordPress. I got my hands on the best tutorials and screencasts that I could find and got to work. Every day, for more than a month, I would wake up at 6 AM and work until 7-8 PM. Devon and Michael saw my progress and when one of them would say “well, that’s great but how comfortable are you with XYZ? We think you’d be using XYZ a lot too” I would go back and put in the time to get a good handle on the basics.
Devon: Amar made it very easy for me to follow his progress, which was very appreciated as a busy entrepreneur, evaluating someone for a position that didn’t exist. He’d send me a short email along the lines of:
“Hey Devon – I tackled what you suggested, checkout my blog post about it here. Any thoughts on what’s next?”
Eventually, Amar had proven an exceptional ability to learn, along with a serious amount of hustle. Even though we didn’t really plan on this position anymore, we knew we had to make it work.
Amar: I’ll admit, it was a grind but it certainly paid off in the end. By the end of October I was invited to sit down with the new VP marketing, the lead developers, and the co-founders for a final set of interviews. I was offered a job by the end of the day.
So, just to recap, that’s about 5 months and 9 interviews/meetings and countless hours spent working on projects/reports/presentations. I’m not saying that everyone will have to do this much to land a job at a hot startup, but it’s what I had to do.
At the end of the day, this whole process was not only very difficult, but very uncomfortable. There were many times where it looked like it wouldn’t happen but I kept pushing. Looking back, I don’t think there was a point where Mike or Devon had explicitly said “no” and that probably played a role in motivating me to keep going. It was definitely a frustrating and scary process but given the opportunity I now have, it was well worth the effort.
I’ve been through a lot to get to where I am but after working at Vidyard for the past couple of days, I’ve realized that this journey has only just begun and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Mike: A startup has finite resources (time and money) and we need to spend both carefully. When hiring, it’s important that we look for explicit experience in the areas we need help – you simply can’t afford to train someone in a role.
Amar proved that he could learn by himself and effectively filled the gaps needed to get there. That’s what a hacker does – by proving himself capable for the role, he hacked the process. A hacker is exactly what we needed. Build something people want, build yourself for the role you want.
Amar, let’s redefine the Internet together.
The icing on the cake had to have been Amar’s luck in finding an apartment the day before his first day… and within a 5 minute walking distance of the Vidyard house.
Interested in Amar’s story? Give him a shout with questions, comments, or even stories of your own! firstname.lastname@example.org
Incase you’re interested, here are some resources Amar used to learn code:
Tutsplus – Premium Membership: Good for everything
W3C Tutorials: A good reference for HTML and CSS
Michael is the CEO and Co-Founder of Vidyard. In addition to growing Vidyard’s success, he is actively involved in the technology sector, acting as a mentor to various early stage companies.
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