I left a comment on a blog of a guy I had never met. He took a chance and hired me.
(This essay is part of a collaborative blogging experiment to answer the question, ‘Who took a chance on you?’)
In sports, teams often draft players on potential. It's risky business; analysts call these draft picks "boom or bust". Boom if the player grows into his body, hones his skills, and surpasses the players picked before him. Bust if the potential never materializes.
"Potential" players sometimes start their career behind the 8-ball because they've only been playing the sport a few years. A short, svelte soccer player in high school might grow half a foot in his junior year of high school, get recruited to play on the basketball team, and then struggle while competing against players with years of training and practice.
I was a potential-laden player who had to wait for his name to be called. Up until the age of 22, I thought the internet was A Bad Thing. When my opinion changed – not just about the amazing potential of the internet, but how good I might one day be at creating internet products – my newfound ambition was offset by my utter lack of understanding of how to go about it.
Without a Computer Science degree or a particularly prolific résumé, I wasn't exactly being recruited by Google and Facebook out of college. I made my way through a few this-will-lead-to-better-things kind of jobs while learning code and design on nights and weekends. When the work day ended, I was the proverbial last guy in the empty gym, practicing proverbial free throw after proverbial free throw.
One year after moving from New York to Tel Aviv, I came across a blog post by Ouriel Ohayon. Like me, Ouriel had also uprooted himself (in his case, from Paris) and moved to Israel. Completely unlike me, Ouriel was an influential figure in the Israeli startup scene.
I commented on Ouriel's post from my desk at a job that I was angling to leave. It was a good job amongst great people, but all the time and effort I was still spending learning to design and code – to prepare for the day I could get my hands dirty and help build something – were being laid to waste.
That comment made some sort of impression, because sparked a meeting over coffee. Ouriel was in the midst of founding Appsfire, an app discovery platform, and if Appsfire was even incorporated back then, the ink still wasn't dry. We ended our brief meeting with a "Nice to meet you".
When Appsfire launched a new version of their website, I volunteered to Ouriel (over Twitter!) a a list of comments and feedback about the site. He liked it enough to ask me to help with some part-time work – as long as I passed a few tests to demonstrate my skill set. While some might bristle at taking a test like this, it was merited. I had no portfolio to speak of, hardly anything but a decent CV and some overtures of ambition.
I passed the test (having obsessed over every last letter and pixel to leave no chance that I wouldn't pass), and eventually started helping out Appsfire on nights and weekends. Appsfire continued expanding its product and then raised an angel round. After six months on the Appsfire "practice squad" – helping the five-person company with little projects on nights and weekends – they called my name to join the team.
Fast forward to the present day, where I now suit up every morning to play for a crazy talented, ambitious team, helping tens of millions of users and hundreds of developers get great apps discovered.
In the past three years I've learned more in these three years than I have in any other three years of my life. I owe that to Ouriel and Yann Lechelle (Appsfire's technical co-founder and, apropos of this post, a deft b-baller), who gave me the chance to grow into my potential. They let me get my hands dirty and be a producer, a builder. If my lack of a polished skill set meant it would take me longer to finish, I owed it to them and to the team to put in whatever hours I needed to do the job at a level that would make our products great.
The thing about potential is that it's just that, potential. I could have been a "bust". But I'd like to think that Yann and Ouriel drafted me, in spite of my not-so-prolific track record, because I was deeply interested in the kinds of problems that Appsfire solves. My motivation to make great products was perfectly aligned with their desire and expectation for me to do so.
So thank you, Ouriel and Yann, for calling my name.