Aaron O'Hearn is a Co founder of Startup Institute, a career accelerator which run eight-week programmes to help you gain the skills, mindset & network to get a job at a startup. I interviewed Aaron O'Hearn to learn more about his startup journey.
INTERVIEW WITH AARON O'HEARN
What was your background before Startup Institute?
I’ve spent most of my career doing two things: operating across functions as a really early employee of a few startups, and focused on building and growing entrepreneurial-focused communities.
How did the idea of Startup Institute come about?
From demand, really. My cofounders and I were in a position to mentor and talk with a really exciting group of companies, and we’d ask them “if we could help you in some way - how would you ask for our help?” and the overwhelming answer was around finding the right people to hire and grow [their] company. We then went on to ask, “okay, based on what you look for when hiring someone, if we screened a person, and trained them on exactly what you just told me is important to you, would you hire them?” “Of course” was the typical answer. With that, we decided to work with a group of practitioners from Boston-based companies to develop a curriculum, and started telling our community we were running a program that was going to train a group of people and help them find an awesome job within an exciting high-growth company. The result was amazing and really helped birth the company in to what it is today.
So what is Startup Institute?
It’s an immersive education for the innovation economy.
How does Startup Institute help students after graduating the programme?
We never stop working with alumni - they’re so important to us and to the future of the company. During the program, our students naturally interact, and deeply engage with dozens of companies. We culminate the program with a celebration, an Exposé where our students present themselves for 60 seconds to a room full of employers looking to hire. Additionally, we’re constantly sharing opportunities, making 1:1 introductions and holding group coaching sessions. However, what’s really started to happen is that our alumni have started supporting one another - older classes are hiring from recent ones. It’s amazing.
How did you get your first few customers?
We asked them, “If we were to train people on exactly what you just told me [what do you look for when you’re hiring someone?], would you hire them?” Yes. “Okay, at what price would it be too expensive for you to hire them from us?”. We then went out to the market with a really authentic message that was something like, “if you want to do something you love, work for a startup. it’s a place where passion and purpose are king, and self direction is critical. it’s scary, but we can help you hit the ground running”.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in the first year of getting the company started?
Deciding how quickly we wanted to grow the business, and as a result of that decision, hiring the right people.
How did you overcome the challenge?
Honestly? Persistence, optimism and luck. By banging our heads in to the wall and trying everything we knew how to do until one thing delivered the result we set out to achieve. Then we did more of that one thing; until we ran into the next wall.
What was key to the company’s growth?
Being authentic in what we were focused on and what we wanted to deliver to our customers, and timing.
How can employees stand out in today’s crowded jobs market?
There are more ways to stand out than I can list here. If I had to choose a few, I’d say
- be persistent, and be yourself. find ways to meet the person you want to work for, don’t give up. When you do get that chance - be yourself.
- prove your worth. Don’t tell me about what you want to do, or what you could do - show me. Give me examples of the things you would do when joining the team. Regardless of how much or how little you know, come with a plan of what you would do and be prepared to objectively talk through it. Proactively having a plan of how you’ll immediately add value will have you stand out from 99% of other candidates.
What attributes do you think makes a good startup employee?
Again, similar to above - so many things but if I had to pick a couple:
- Even. your world will get rocked, things will change rapidly, you won’t know all the answers - understand it’s just part of the game you’re now playing. Keep your head focused on the work that needs to get done, and get it done.
- Curious. constantly learn on your own and inquire about how something could be done better. once you have an idea of how something may work, go try it. Don’t ask, just go tinker and try to do something, then find someone who has 10 minutes and explain to them what you did and why you felt it mattered. Repeat.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur just starting out?
Have a plan, be open to feedback, don’t assume you’re right all the time, and be relentless in trying and communicating what you’re trying. You may think you’re communicating what your thoughts are around a certain decision, but as soon as you think you’ve communicated with stakeholders around you and they get it, ask them if they fully understand, and then communicate your thoughts and plan again.
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