Investing (your life) in a startup

what does the company do?

What does the company do?

I've been on a goodbye tour of sorts.

Friends, family, and people I care about have all wanted to spend time with me (way more than usual) over the past few weeks. They know I'm moving to San Francisco for a new job, and want a piece of me before I leave. The move to the West Coast is a big one, so everyone wants to know the same thing:

"What does the company do?"

Don't be fooled. It's not as straightforward as you'd think. Whoever asked packed a bunch of questions into that short sentence. Let me unpack it for you.

How much money are you going to make? Does the company have any shot of being successful? Are you making a big mistake? Why the hell is it worth moving to San Francisco? Are you smarter than me? What kind of work will you be doing? How big is the company? Is it a good job?

The next time you're starting a new job, don't feel as helpless as I did. Don't answer all the questions at once. Instead, be aware of your surroundings, and have a pitch ready to go for any situation you find yourself in. I'll walk you through a few I found myself in.

The blank stare

The damage is done.

If you find yourself staring into a lifeless set of eyes after saying your piece, it's too late. You either carried on for too long, used buzzwords, or spoke about an industry the person doesn't know or car about.

Let's try that again.

The cocktail party

Remember, in order to answer this question well, you must be aware of your surroundings.

If you're at a cocktail party, bar, or any other place where alcohol is being consumed, the person asking doesn't care. They asked because they want to be polite, and not feel awkward standing alone in the corner of the room.

Keep it short and sweet. Dumb down what the company does as much as possible, and stick to one sentence. If they ask for more, indulge them. If they say, "oh, cool," immediately change the subject. If you are sudennly possessed to do more talking about the company, refer to the section above.

The afternoon with a friend's parents

This one's tricky.

If your friend's parents actually care about you, take time to explain what the company does in simple terms. Tie in what the position means for your career. Will you be making more money? Great! Let them know. Will you be managing people or learning an important skill? Great. Let them know.

They are asking because they care about you. They probably don't care too much about the actual company. Just share enough so they know you'll be fine.

If the friend's parent asks you what the company does, but you never really liked them, refer to the cocktail party scenario.

The midday hang out with friends

Don't be an asshole.

Odds are, at least half your friends hate their jobs. No need to remind them. Steer clear of mentioning your salary (unless they ask). Instead, give them a one or two sentence blurb on what the company does. Talk for a little about what makes the CEO awesome. If you're feeling particularly talkative, mention a cool co-worker that you met while interviewing.

Follow these guidelines, and the next time someone asks you what your company does, you won't feel like an idiot.

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