Ivan Vanderbyl

On Joining a Startup

I've spent the last 6 years since I finished high school working for companies of less than 20 people. Nearly always as a consultant trying to bootstrap something else on the side.

This year, after spending a few months travelling, and generally not doing a very good job on other peoples projects as I would like, I decided to head over to Mountain View, California and visit some friends who had left Melbourne 6 months earlier to build a startup.

I met these guys as part of the AngelCube venture accelerator in Melbourne around the start of 2012. And I was sitting across from Ed, one of the founders, when he got the call from Dave McClure to join 500 Startups.

A few months later I started working for them a few hours a week to quickly implement things they weren't completely fluent in, like Ember.js and building an API in Rails.

I was pretty excited by what they were building, not just because of the technology stack behind it, but rather because they were doing something which hadn’t been done before.

That might sound strange, but if you look closely at ±80% (arbitrarily large unscientific number) of all startups we hear about in Australia you’ll find they are simply iterating on or improving a well understood domain.

Take Stripe for example — they are making it easier to accept card payments online. Something which is obviously not new, but it’s still orders of magnitude harder than it should be in just about every established market you can name.

Something else that became immediately obvious was this teams insane calibre for getting shit done, and learning along the way.

To illustrate the point, I had a two hour Skype call with Chris back in November to teach him the basics of Ember.js, to which he then goes and builds a large chunk of the Kickfolio dashboard.And for those who aren’t aware, Ember is known for having an extraordinarily steep and painful learning curve for a Javascript framework. I thought this was impressive.

For those who don’t know me from a bar of soap, and who haven’t heard of CrashLog or TestPilot CI. I had previously tried and failed to bootstrap the latter from Melbourne for over two years. And while I still work on CrashLog on my weekends, I am constantly reminded of what killed TestPilot: Not being able to find the right people to get it off the ground.

I actually met one of the other founders; Diesel Laws, when he was going through much the same battle with his other startup in 2011.

After reading that he shut down Barkles I began to suspect there might be some truth in what everyone had been telling me for years: Startups are fucking hard and you’re a moron for sticking it out on your own (paraphrased).

So the decision to join the Kickfolio team really came out of the realisation that in order to build something amazing that the world will actually see, you must work with an awesome team.

Otherwise you’ll probably build something amazing and never have the time to show anyone, or you build a half assed something and nobody will give a fuck.

So above all, joining a killer team became more important than actually building something. But building something is an awesome side effect.

I didn't realise it at the time, but the open invite to stay with them when I was in town should have been a direct give-away — they had been scheming ways to get me onboard as their first employee for quite some time. And when they finally asked me to join to team, it didn't take much convincing. But I did have to turn down a job at an established tech company in San Francisco as a result (no names mentioned).

Truth be told, I didn't think I would ever join a company full-time, and I don't think there is any other company I would consider joining, except maybe Github. Maybe.

It’s obviously not quite the same as being a founder, but I have roughly the same autonomy. And as a team we’re shipping more code, siging up more customers, and generally growing at orders of magnitude faster than I could have achieved on my own.

I think this is exciting.