Thursday, June 24, 2010

How I Graduated from Harvard, Turned Down Google, Got a Job On Twitter, And Joined A Startup Called Clicker

derek flanzraich
Honestly, the hardest part is getting in. But, after four years, I graduated this past May, cap, gown, and my very own Harvard diploma in tow. This story, though, starts a few months before then. Like many seniors, I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college. Graduating from Harvard means you can do anything, right? Wrong. It turns out it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out they don’t just hand out awesome, challenging, creative, and entrepreneurial jobs to Harvard grads. What the eff? While most of my friends had faithfully decided they were going to be investment bankers, consultants, or teachers– the only thing I was sure about was that I didn’t want to be any of those three. All I knew was that I wanted a job I’d be excited to wake up for every morning.
Meanwhile I read Chris Dixon’s “Every time an engineer joins Google, a startup dies” and James Kwak’s “Why do Harvard Kids Head to Wall Street?.” I even watched J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement speech on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination” (it’s awesome, by the way). Seems like they were making this stuff for me (thanks, Chris!). Except, the thing is, I was never worried about risk-taking. At Harvard, I had started a comedy news show as a freshman without any idea what I was doing (it’s been pretty successful, too– watched by over half the school and grown into a 50+ student organization) and had revitalized the central TV organization on campus to relative success as well. I had the startup bug. I was willing, ready, and able to fail and fail spectacularly. I got that there was no better time than right out of college. But I just wasn’t sure that was the smartest thing to do, to leverage that degree I (barely) earned in the best way to further my future.
So truthfully, I did some consulting interviews. I flirted with some VC firms (turns out it helps to have actual out-of-school startup experience before you try to invest in any). But, one thing led to another, and there I was, mediocre GPA and all, interviewing at the Mountain View Googleplex for their entry-level sales associate job. I’ve always been passionate about digital media, media & entertainment, and technology– so I figured, why not Google? Plus, gyms, massage therapy, free shuttle service to and from San Francisco, more gourmet cafeterias than I could count, brilliant beautiful awesome people, and a hefty relocation bonus? Count me in. For some crazy reason, I got lucky and they extended me a job offer with two weeks to get back to them.
Everyone I knew was impressed– my parents even started telling their friends about it (the true measure of success). Two weeks to make an easy decision, right? But, instead of being happy that my long search was finally over, I went into panic mode. It had hit me at some point on my (Google-paid) flight from San Francisco to Boston– I didn’t want to be the 20,000th employee anywhere. I’m bad at that. I’ll get bored. And I’m dangerous when I’m bored. Despite the awesome company, the awesome people, and the awesome perks, I wanted something more challenging. Something with ups and downs– where the highs would be the tallest skyscrapers and the lows the pits of hell. Where what I’m doing actually makes a difference. I’ll work 18 hours a day, just make it matter. No one was pretending Google was like that anymore– instead, I was told, it’s basically a year and a half before your training is even completed.  I had nothing to lose so, basically on a whim, I sent my resume & what must now look like a pretty desperate cover letter to two startup companies, exciting startups run by incredible people playing in the field I’m passionate about making a difference in. To me, those were the only two that seemed to fit all that criteria– that I could get 100% behind. Maybe I should have sent out more.
Of the two, both responded. But both saying thanks, but no hiring now– we’ll keep your resume on file for the future! Got it. Google it is. Or was it?
Then, Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone emailed back: “Hey Derek. Jim Lanzone here. Email me Jim@clicker. See being on Twitter pays off sometimes. Recognize your name.” I’d been a fan of for some time– I thought then (and now) that it was truly the best of any service trying to help users find what, how, and where to watch online. It had (and has) a killer UI, the smartest & most efficient video search, and a ton of potential. After it won TechCrunch50, I started following @jlanzone on Twitter and we ended up tweeting a few times back and forth: I recommended one of his great interviews, we discussed Harvard basketball (though there’s not much to discuss apart from friend Jeremy Lin), and I poked fun at’s redesign (sorry I’m not sorry?). Suddenly we were talking on the phone & discussing the possibility of working at Clicker. Jim’s awesome:  he’s got a killer background (read paragraph 6 of this), an inspiring leadership style, and just watch him handle Shelly Palmer– who wouldn’t want to work for this guy? I had two more “interviews” for Clicker– speaking via cell for over an hour and a half with each. Lanzone’s attention meant a lot– but the two guys I spoke with, Oscar Rohen (content) and Ryan Massie (product ), basically made my decision that much harder. They seemed like awesome people that I got the feeling I’d love to work with and learn from, sure. They had read my “How To: Disrupt TV” blog post– and asked me about it. Their questions were smart, tough, and thought-provoking– both were by far the best and most interesting interviews I’ve had over my entire job search process. That was huge. I was impressed, even hopeful. Then, silence. There was barely one week left before I had to accept or decline Google’s generous offer– and time was running out. A day before my Google offer expired, Clicker made me an offer (along with a sincere apology about their delay, they had apparently been just a bit busy working on this).
It was the midst of senior week. I was graduating in less than two weeks– and had a big decision to make. Luckily, I had my closest friends nearby, my family just a call away, and a few incredible mentors to share their advice and opinions. But basically, they said the same thing: you’ve already made up your mind. They were right. Who needs micro-kitchens every 100 ft when you can help build awesome shit that matters?
I’ll be joining the team on July 1st– and, in case you can’t tell, I’m thrilled. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jim, Oscar, and Ryan through our interactions– and they’re super smart, super passionate, and contagiously enthusiastic about Clicker’s potential. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better, but also can’t wait to meet, work with, and learn from the rest of the world-class Clicker team that they’ve put together. I’ve only had limited interaction with a few them, but each is so far more awesome than the next.
Ultimately, I’m humbled to have been offered the opportunity. Clicker’s an incredible product (in my opinion, by far the best there is right now). And I’m expecting (and you should be, too) many more exciting things on the way. I’m moving to Los Angeles this weekend (and, in a few months, will be moving to San Francisco more permanently). Expect to hear more from me about Clicker soon.
And if you’re ever on the West Coast, feel free to shoot me an email if you want to grab coffee, drinks, chat digital media or anything, really. Once I get started, my email address will be derek [at] or, as always, you can reach me at my personal email, derek.flanzraich [at] I’m looking forward to joining the startup world and starting this thing they call “real life.” It’s been a long time coming.

Original Article

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