By Murat Bicer
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But before you make the leap to launching your startup, let’s unpack what a background at a FAANG or similar web-scale company buys you.
FAANG founder advantages
Living in the future
Big engineering teams, hyperaggressive development paces, and millions of users translate into complicated engineering cycles for FAANG companies. From this vantage point, they often see advanced challenges before the rest of the market.
After Google acquired its previous startup, Nobl9’s founding team got firsthand experience with how Google models the reliability of its cloud services around a concept called service level objectives. Everybody knows about Kubernetes–Google’s once secret-sauce for managing servers in the cloud. Now companies like Nobl9 are bringing to market other essential cloud-scale reliability approaches born out of FAANG.
The itch to leave the “mothership”
Founders coming out of web-scale companies tend to have an extra gear. They want, no need, to build something special they truly own that reflects their unique vision for the problem domain they are addressing.
“Working at companies like Uber and Flexport was an incredible experience. No doubt about it,” said Miles Hobby, co-founder at CRV portfolio company Figure, which provides a total compensation platform for modern HR teams. “It’s easy to get comfortable in a cushy full-time gig surrounded by extremely talented people, but we had a desire to build something new from the ground up.”
A fantastic network
It’s tough to work at one of these companies without getting exposure to a large talent pool of people you can tap into later. Xoogler (the ex-Google employee network) has risen to the level of influence that it’s got its own venture arm and event ecosystem.
“In highly successful modern companies, a lot of times you are exposed to technology challenges that the rest of the market has not yet experienced or is aware of,” said Kishore Gopalakrishna, co-founder and CEO at StarTree, another CRV portfolio company. “With resources and support, you can build a game-changing solution and deliver the solution at massive scale. That’s how Apache Pinot was born. Working with my co-founder Xiang Fu at LinkedIn to solve real-time customer-facing analytics challenges, we recognized a large and growing market need (fintech, retail and more) for such a solution and decided to build StarTree—a cloud-ready analytics platform powered by Apache Pinot.”
Challenges for FAANG founders
On the flip side, there are some recurrent stumbling blocks that we’ve seen for founders with FAANG backgrounds:
Taking infrastructure for granted
It’s not just the obvious perks you’re leaving behind—the free meals, the health plan—it’s the entire support infrastructure.
Even the most brilliant engineer is hamstrung when that incredible build infrastructure, automation environment, test environment, monitoring, communications, etc., get taken away. It’s easy to underestimate how time-consuming those first stages can be in restoring all the infrastructure you’d gotten used to.
Wearing multiple hats is a real thing (not just a startup cliché)
In FAANG organizations, there is so much specialization. People tend to have very narrowly defined scopes and expect to hand the rest off to others.
At startups, if you don’t do it, no one will. Make sure that before you make the leap into your first startup, you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and that you get as much exposure as you can. Learn what other people do in different roles, be a sponge and absorb what you can about performing those roles. You’ll need whatever adjacent skills you can soak up.
There’s nothing “easy” about marketing and sales
It’s easy to presume that marketing and sales success is a foregone conclusion with a superior product. You hear naive statements like “all we have to do is market it” or “a solution like this will sell itself.” If only.
Make sure your founding team isn’t all on the engineering side. FAANG engineers may not be aware of the systematic go-to-market that their previous employers have spent many years perfecting, with lots of applied experience and expertise. Give marketing and sales the respect they deserve as very nuanced and challenging domains that will have a lot of bearing on your startup’s ultimate success.
Name-dropping only gets you so far
Working for a FAANG company used to be a novelty, and some considered it a reliable litmus test for technical competence or business success. Now, hundreds of thousands have walked through those halls. Investors are less starstruck today by FAANG founders and more cognizant of their advantages and challenges, so you should be too, before you leave to start your own company.
Murat Bicer is a general partner at CRV, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage enterprise and consumer startups. Since 1970, the firm has invested in more than 400 companies at their most crucial stages, including DoorDash, Airtable, Patreon, Drift and Iterable.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
Figure, Iterable, Mabl, StarTree, Storyboard and Nobl9, which are mentioned throughout the article, are all CRV-backed companies.↩
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