Step One to Working at a Startup, It Takes Two Hours a Week

Let’s imagine you are convinced you want to get involved with a startup or become an entrepreneur; now, how do you actually get started? So far, I have written a blog about why the tech/startup culture is amazing and I shared a couple stories of how two individuals were able to get involved with a startup. Since then, a number of people have asked me more tactical questions. How do I actually get started? What do I do if I have a job and I need money? What do I do if I just finished medical school, I am in residency, and I have a shit ton of loans? This post is directed at you if you are convinced that startups and entrepreneurs are interesting. This is for you if you would like to be an entrepreneur or work at an exciting startup, but you just don’t know how. You want to know some reasonable next steps, because you think I am crazy for saying you should quit your job.

For starters, I don’t think I am crazy; I am just trying to think differently.

Are you currently really busy because you work a corporate job at (Aon, PwC, Capital One, GE, Accenture, Deloitte, etc.) or you are in medical school or post-medical school residency (in West Virginia, at Thomas Jefferson, or in ophthalmology in San Francisco)? I have a simple first step to getting you closer to this goal of becoming an entrepreneur or working for a cool startup. The first step is to spend a couple hours a week helping a startup. If you want to work for a particular startup, ask if you can volunteer to help them for a couple hours a week. On the contrary, you should not ask a startup to pay you to do something you have no experience with. Imagine you want to be a tennis coach for a friend because you used to play tennis in high school. Now imagine demanding your friend to pay you $20 an hour for you to coach him or her. Your friend may consider paying you the $20 an hour, but I can tell you that your friend will be more likely to pay you $20 a lesson if you provide five free lessons first. Similarly, you should consider providing free help to a startup and then eventually ask for pay. Try it for a 100 days and see what happens; I imagine you’ll get pretty good at helping startups.


There are some people I know that have already taken the first step: Rajvi Vakil, Neil Desai, Rushi Talati, Umang Desai, Ashish Patel, Nish Hansoti, Andrew Watts, and Geeta Bharathi. I will share a brief story for each of these people; I hope you are inspired by them.

  • Rajvi Vakil, a full-time financial analyst at Aon.
    • With the time Rajvi has outside of work, she decided to help Plannr, a service that can assist you with event planning. Plannr was simply an idea a developer (Sunny Vempati) came up with a few months ago, but has turned into a startup with some traction. Rajvi has vital experience in the space, so she decided to volunteer her expertise. Her expertise comes from planning bachelorette parties, hosting yearly potluck-styled Thanksgiving get togethers, and organizing her Dad’s birthday party.
    • I expect Rajvi to transition to a full-time career at a different startup in the near future, while she continues to work for Plannr. Within 6 months, I am hoping she can go full-time with Plannr.
  • Neil Desai, recent graduate of the University of Illinois and a full-time consultant at Accenture.
    • After I wrote my last post about getting involved with startups, Neil reached out to me. I asked him if he had any interest in technology or education. He said he was interested in both. Neil is now a part-time volunteer consultant for MakerSquare. He is helping create and execute on our full-ride scholarship for prospective students that are financially less fortunate. I am hopeful he will help us land a partnership with Google, Women Who Code, or Ms. Tech.
  • Umang Desai and Ashish Patel, two lawyers who decided to quit their job and start their own law firm, Desai & Patel, LLP.
    • For starters, they quit their job to start their own law firm; I guess they are crazy.
    • They both continue to support MakerSquare by helping us read through NDA agreements, researched how MakerSquare is related to Obama’s agenda so we could get him to stop by our office while he was in town (we ended up on Obama’s approved list), and various other items.
    • I also do my best to help them with what I can: ideas for website development, improving their online presence through Linkedin, and providing introductions to my network.
    • I expect their law firm to continue to grow and I look forward to working with them.
  • Nish Hansoti, former employee of Guggenheim partners and prospective full-time University of Chicago Booth MBA school student.
    • You can hear more about his story in my last post, but he is currently helping us with our investor relations and serving as an interim CFO.
    • I would like him to join MakerSquare full-time, because I am confident it will benefit his professional career, his life, and my life.
    • I also calculated joining MakerSquare will put Nish in a better financial position compared to going to Booth MBA. My analysis involved an Excel comparison of Nish choosing to work for MakerSquare for 3 years versus going to MBA school and working a $175k job for a year. Financially, he comes out on top if he chooses MakerSquare (send me an email if you want to see the Excel analysis). Other factors include MBA school providing a network versus MakerSquare which would provide a CFO role of potential a multi-million dollar valued company—DevBootcamp, our ~equal competitor, was purchased by Kaplan for $35 to $50 million.
  • Andrew Watts, a college student at the University of Texas.
    • Andrew reached out to me about sponsoring his business fraternity. We talked a handful of times about sponsorship, but eventually planned a speaker panel where I would be the keynote speaker in front of 400+ people (holy shit!). This will be happening on September 25th.
    • Recently, due to all the awesome work Andrew has done, I have offered him an internship where he will be a campus ambassador for MakerSquare and also help me speak at Universities around the country (likely schools in the near future include the University of Illinois and Northwestern Kellogg MBA).
  • Geeta Bharathi, a sophomore at the University of Illinois
    • Geeta is my ‘brother’ as we say in our business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. Geeta chose to do a job shadow of MakerSquare. I enjoyed her professionalism and the two write ups she did for MakerSquare after the job shadow. I decided to offer Geeta a summer internship a few days after the job shadow and she ended up accepting.
    • Geeta is awesome and she is helping with a variety of important items at MakerSquare: finding important student and employer quotes so we could close a deal with Udacity and AT&T to provide our curriculum globally, writing blog posts about our students’ experience, and securing Facebook WIFI as a sponsor for AlumConf 2015 (a conference for alum of programs like MakerSquare around the country).

Now that you are (ideally) inspired, here are some next steps for you all.

  1. Ask your friends who are at startups how you can help. Below are some people that I know that can use some help.
    1. Sunny Vempati with Plannr, a startup that focuses on helping people and companies plan events: baby showers, conferences (AlumConf 2015), friends’ reunions (#campreunion), etc. Email
    2. Umang Desai and Ashish Patel with Desai & Patel, LLP, a law firm that provides law stuff. Look at their website. I am currently helping them random suggestions on their online presence (i.e. Linkedin), the design of their website (I hate their fonts), and any thoughts I have getting a company started. Email or
    3. Shaan Shah with MakerSquare and other endeavors. MakerSquare is a company that focuses on providing the best educational experience, ever. Currently, MakerSquare provides one of the best experiences to learn to code through three month classes. Be ready for the future: MakerSquare University. Who knows, maybe we’ll teach sports once I am done here: Email
      1. Get involved with MakerSquare. Current projects include Shivani Patel getting us on Shark Tank, Arpit Parikh finding additional speaking engagements, and Ravi Talati and Bhavin Patel with video production.
      2. Help me help less financially fortunate people with the the Nirmam Fellowship.
  2. Go to local meetups and find interesting startups. In most cities, you can find a variety of startups. Go to one a month. Visit
  3. Make a list of startups you find interesting. It will help to keep this organized in a spreadsheet, so you can share it with friends and they can help you get introductions. Include:
    1. The name of the company
    2. Why you find the company interesting
    3. How you can potentially add value Here is an example Google Spreadsheet you should create.

After reading all that, I hope you can focus your efforts on what you want.

  • Do you want to be drunkard? Well then, keep drinking and going out twice a week.
  • Do you want to be a professional TV critic? Keep watching 7 different television series’ each month.
  • Do you want to be a food connoisseur? Be sure to try a every restaurant in your city.
  • Do you want to be as good as me at dancing? 🙂 Dance every day:
  • Do you want to be an athlete? Play sports every day.
  • Do you want to learn to code? Get started doing free online coursework and then join #thenewfuture with Parag: MakerSquare.

Do you want to work at a startup or be an entrepreneur? Well then, get to work. Go help a startup.

Tagged , , , , , ,

6 thoughts on “Step One to Working at a Startup, It Takes Two Hours a Week

  1. andrewswatts says:

    I have been really into your blog, really enjoy the long form posts you have. It seems like you have gotten really into it as well, which is great! I can definitely see it being a resource for people who are interested in becoming an entrepreneur but don’t know where to start.


  2. Anish J. Soni says:


    In terms of the blog post specifically, it was definitely well written/thought out and all that good stuff. Being in medicine, I saw Rushi’s name and I was wondering how’d he get involved in a startup? I think its important that you always remind people why you’re doing what you’re doing (if they’re interested) and how you’ve been able to reach out to others that might be in a slump and may be interested in what you’re doing.

    I also like have you gave advise on how to get involved specifically, I think too many times people go with “Just do it” when trying to help people out, when they need things to be a little more concrete then that and what you gave them is something that they can actually implement right away.

    The best thing about the blog was how you gave examples of people with all sorts of different backgrounds & how they’re getting involved with startups. Whether the startup is related to what they’re interested in or helping out using they’re background in law, event planning etc. This lets people know that there are many ways to get involved, there are a lot of different/interesting things going on out there and that they actually can become a valued asset to a startup.

    Just wanted to say I’m happy that you’re doing what you WANT to do and not what you think you NEED to do, along with trying to help others do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vikas Gandhi says:

    Good stuff Shaan. I read this blog post when you first posted it, but decided to comment after taking a meeting, due in part to this post. I feel more and more that I want to get into a company while it’s on its up and up, and I went onto Built In Chicago to look for something I may be interested in. I just filtered for my interest–healthcare–and cold called one company in specific I though I could help. The founder was actually in town the following week (this past Thurs.) and was excited to have me on board. Like you mentioned, I just want to donate my time at this point and learn all I can. I’m still not ready to quit my stable job and income for this venture, but it’s good to know people will allow you to hop on board while working your “9-5”. Biggest takeaway from this post was the ability to donate x amount of hours a week to a company and not worry about compensation. I also firmly believe to do some digging for your interst and cold calling or emailing founders of companies and reaching out to them directly…they probably want you on board just as much as you want to be on board. Hoping this venture gives me some good lessons and exposure, and the rest I’ll play it by ear.


  4. Mira says:


    Thanks for sharing this post! You have inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and just go for it! As you know, I graduated from UIUC this past May in Psychology and a business minor. Within my four years, I learned a lot from the unique experiences I had with founding an a cappella group, being a pre-dental student, and trying to pursue consulting after college. My true passion lies in helping people follow their passion while using creative leadership to guide them. I could not find that perfect mix with any career path until I read this post! Being involved in a space where you make a direct impact on someone’s life and actively learn/innovate is thrilling! Cannot wait to start the next phase of my life in the start-up space!


  5. Deepti says:

    It’s so funny reading the above comment because my education path is almost identical! I wanted to impact people’s lives in a positive way. Motivation and the way you think is everything so I graduated from Bradley with a Psych major and a business management minor. I knew I didn’t wanna go to grad school though so after college I was stuck for a while. Then, decided to pursue Business Analysis and now I work as a BA. It definitely goes to show that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work for it, there is no way you won’t see successful results. But, of course all good come to those who wait, and I’ve learned that timing is everything. Which is why I love your blog…its perfect! Prove your value, make an impact and make sure the company you invest your time into can never let you go!

    I also love that you used real life scenarios! It’s amazing to see where an idea can take you, and its inspiring to say the least. Definitely going to continue reading your blogs, it forces you to seek a different perspective


  6. Matilda says:

    Writing articles is time consuming.I know how you can get unlimited articles for your site, search in google:

    Anightund’s rewriter


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: