John Sjölander, COO at Burt AB

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Product Lead at Flurry

Completely agree that career paths aren't linear and often big step functions changes come from someone taking a chance on providing you with a great opportunity. I think it's particularly cool too when those chances are completely offered on merit (as opposed to rubber stamps or past successes).

Was talking to friend who works at a highly valued startup and he told me that one of the engineers on his team was self-taught and had actually gone through some pretty rough addiction problems (which resulted in him living on the streets for a few years). Later got his act together, taught himself programming and is now a rockstar. Pretty awesome that the startup gave him a chance.

Scout Ventures, Dozen Digital

Really respect this post. So important to be grateful, and not just for big moments/opportunities, but for every time someone does something for you that they didn't need to or didn't immediately benefit from. I see this in the tech startup world as much as any other, and is a large part of the reason that I enjoy it.

Startup Edition, Product Hunt

Great post. I was asked to comment so here's my story.

I joined my first startup as an intern at InstantAction (RIP) during my senior year in college. I was fortunate enough to land a full-time position after graduation, working in Marketing. Frankly, I had no idea what I was doing.

My boss at the time was the VP of Product. After about 6 months of working with him, he recognized my curious nature and product instinct as I proactively studied the market and provided input on how we might improve the product. I was offered a role as a Product Manager and eagerly accepted.

I was thrown into the fire. Again, I had no idea what I was doing but through his mentorship and trust, I've acquired a wealth of experience and knowledge that wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't taken a chance on me.

Thanks, Tony Yang. :)

Quibb, Uber

My big break: 2001, and it was my junior year in college. I had interned at a couple startups in Seattle, and the dot com bubble was rapidly collapsing, and I realized that I needed to go back to school and finish my degree. I also learned, from one of my employers that had been taken public by their venture capital firm, that VCs were some really important thing I should learn more about.

I had two very random meetings that changed my career forever- one was with Geoffrey Barker, a cofounder of the aforementioned startup, who recommended that after I graduated I should figure out how to work in VC, even though the jobs were scarce. He gave me a list of 5 or 6 local guys that I should talk to, but didn't volunteer any intros. I had a followup convo with a bschool/CS professor named Emer Dooley that then intro'd me to a bunch of these folks- turned out a bunch were VCs.

Calling a VC as a college junior to try to get a job is a low percentage play :) Most humored me for 5 minutes, said that I didn't have any skills that would help them, and moved on. But one form, Mohr Davidow Ventures, actually let me meet them for a half hour, and I pitched them on having a technical young guy around to bounce ideas off of. Turned out the office was mostly ex-lawyers and businesses folks, so having a junior guy who knew the technology was well-received. The GP, Bill, I talked to, said- OK great, let me check with the partners and get back to you.

After that meeting, I was very excited. It was going to be my big break!

But as a week passed, then another, I realized that I needed to follow up. Thus began a long process of calling their office, every week, to try to get a followup meeting and get the OK. And every week, I'd call, chat with the nice office manager lady, Carol, and she'd try to find a date for me. Never happened. 6 weeks in, I was starting to lose heart. I asked my prof Emer if I should quit, and she said- "Keep calling. They're important people, they are used to saying no, and if they haven't said anything, it's just because they are busy." I followed her advice, and kept going.

About 3 months later, after calling every week. I got back in, and I got a desk at a $2B venture capital firm, and at the ripe age of 19, was watching world-class entrepreneurs come in to pitch their companies. The experience lasted 18 months before I joined one of their portfolio companies, but it was amazing and career changing. And it all had to do with a few folks- Geoff, Emer, and Bill, who took a chance on me when I was a kid.

Echoes really well. I also believe that in a networked world, we need to keep putting ourselves out there to attract these opportunities. Being stuck within an organization can severely limit who gets to take a chance on you. Moreover, intra-organization dynamics are often perceived as zero-sum. Hence, putting yourself out there (even being out here on Quibb) is really important to encountering new opportunities, where someone somewhere takes a chance on you.

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Startup Edition, Product Hunt

Agreed. I've referenced this relevant article with Tony Hsieh several times: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201302/rules-for-success/rule-2-tony-hsieh-maximize-serendipity.html

Lead UI / UX Designer at ArcTouch

I really like this bit "I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them....Meet lots of different people without trying to extract value from them."

Principal, Business Development, Games at Amazon

Love reading all the stories above. I was also asked to comment so here's mine:

I was not sure whether architecture (my undergrad major) was right for me. I was allured by this phenomenon: online gaming, and wanted to do something before I go for architects. So I reached out to alum, friends of friends, and even webmasters. Long story short, NCsoft hired me- me before graduating. I didn’t study CS or business. But they took a chance on me to do marketing.
Luckily, the company grew like crazy. We once rented an entire theme park like Disneyland in Korea to throw a holiday party, and most employees got 2X of their base salary. But deep in my heart, I wondered what I really contributed to the success and what I could learn more. Maybe the game was just so damn good (a la WoW).
My big break: after 3 years I was thinking of leaving, then I got an expat offer in Japan. I didn’t speak Japanese back then, never lived outside Korea, and would be the youngest expat there. I knew the JP subsidiary was still not profitable, but very strategic to HQ, which would give me tons of learning. The following years have defined who I am now. Things I took it for granted (e.g. fast Internet everywhere) were not even near standards outside Korea. It opened my eyes for bigger market trends. I started blogging and tweeting, so I could share what I learned. Along the line, luckily the JP branch became profitable.
Lastly, my Disney boss, Greg took a chance on me in the US. I came to the US for MBA. Unfortunately, my class('10) faced the worst job market following the economic downturn. Apparently I didn’t have US work experience. All I could say was I did something new in Asia, which might be the next thing in the US. I just tried to meet as many stakeholders as possible at my target companies (tracking 1 info interview/wk). Greg afterwards said three execs referred me to him and that’s how he picked me. I was one of two MBA associates that year at Disney Interactive. The other was a hedge fund guy from Wharton.
That’s my story. I came to the US in my late 20s (no 1.5 generation). Fortunately and gratefully I have done BD for America's most beloved IPs like Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob. I owed a LOT to all my advocates above. Hope I could mention some Quibbers next time I revisit this question :-)

In a different context, I will always remember how my soccer coach Tom Kruse took a chance on me.

I played soccer for as long as I could remember. You know, AYSO -- one of those "everyone plays" leagues -- nothing competitive or crazy. Every year, I would play on the same team with my friends and a couple of parents would be our coaches. When I started playing, I was not really the athletic type, nor was I aggressive, and many of my friends were bigger. So they put me at fullback, and I would chitchat with the other fullbacks in the back. That was fine with me. I didn't really care to run around getting pushed by other kids in bunchball. Thanks to my athletic teammates, we won ALL THE TIME.

By 5th grade, I had decided that actually playing soccer was pretty fun. I had gotten to be a pretty ok fullback. But that year, something changed. Instead of parents coaching us, a guy named Tom Kruse became our coach. (yeah, not that Tom Cruise) He decided that I should become a forward. "I think you'll score some good goals." I was skeptical. I'd never scored a goal before (probably because I was too busy chitchatting all those years), so I didn't believe that I could score. I had a lot of new skills to learn -- namely, how to shoot. After every practice, we would do additional work on just shooting.

My first game came and went, and I didn't score. "It takes time," he said. But many games came and went. And, I didn't score. I was nervous I would mess up. When I did get the ball, I would pass to someone on our team whom I knew could score. Though we went undefeated that season, I ended up only contributing 2 goals for us in that whole season. Tom suggested that we play club soccer since we beat everyone in AYSO. Club soccer was really hard, but we battled our way into the playoffs. In our last game, in the last quarter, we were tied. It just seemed like all the shots my teammates were taking were getting blocked. Just like you should shoot a movie, I finally decided to step up. If my teammates weren't scoring, I would try. In the last two min, I got the ball, I saw an opening, I shot, and the ball flew over the goalie's head, and we won the game! Tom taught me that even if you don't think you're qualified to do something, you shouldn't just close doors for yourself. With some extra practice, you might just turn out to be good at it and like it.

Product Manager at General Assembly

I love reading the stories here about how people got their breaks. Although I definitely think I'm still really early in my story and hopefully there will still be big breaks to come, I'll chime in with mine so far:

In college I started working on an app with a couple friends and we got over 200k users for our product (http://thoughtback.com) but had no clue how to make or raise any money. I was thinking about maybe doing freelance web stuff after graduation and working on the startup on the side but something in my gut told me I needed to get plugged in to the ecosystem in a major startup hub like SF or NY. Luckily, I met a guy named Zach Steindler who happened to be a cofounder of Olark and he told me I should consider interning with them after I graduated. At first, I said "no" because I was still thinking about working on my startup. But as time passed I realized it would probably be better to move to SF, join an awesome company and learn a lot than to stay in Michigan and beat my head against the wall trying to turn our toy app into a real business. I ended up joining Olark and I can confidently say it was an awesome decision.

This post has been on my mind quite a bit since I first read it. I feel fortunate to have a few really impactful people that have shaped the direction and depth of my career. The person who took a chance on me earlier in my career and put me on the startup path in the late 90's I still consider a trusted mentor. We continue to trade email and phone calls -particularly when I'm working through big decisions- but I haven't seen him in person for a few years. As luck would have it, I bumped into him at an industry event this morning. After catching up for a bit, I thanked him for taking that chance on me back then. I probably wouldn't have thought to do that if not for this thread. I believe this industry benefits from people like him and hope I can now pay it forward as he did for me.

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Lead Creative Technologist at The Primacy

At my last job, I felt like my old boss took a chance on me. I came from a job where everyone was miserable, overworked, and seemed to absolutely hate their job - and each other. Everyone was borderline abusive to one another in order to get what they needed, and as soon as they did, they'd turn around to be friendly to you. I was blamed for everything that went wrong, whether it was my fault or not. I wasn't credited for anything good that I did - it was assumed my coworker was responsible for it. I wasn't allowed to work on my strengths. So when I was given the opportunity to leave and start someplace new, I was so thankful, and felt like she took a chance on me - I worked my butt off to make sure I didn't let her down. I felt exceptionally fortunate.

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I attribute all the things I did in my career that I'm proud of, to 5 people that took a chance on me. In each occasion, I definitely did not deserve it -- I was just lucky. What it did to me is generate a strong need to "live up to the expectations" and "deliver stellar work". So these 5 people not only took a chance on me, but shaped my fundamental work ethic. I can never forget them. I will never say no to them.

I recently took a chance on one person -- a developer -- who ranked #3 in the shortlist (of 3 candidates). He barely made it to the shortlist, but somehow I had a gut feeling and hired him. He turned out to be a rock star. And I can clearly see that feeling of "living up to the expectations" in him.

In another case, I wasn't so sure about a marketing person but my partner decided to take a chance, and we hired him. He turned out to be a rock star as well. I was so wrong!

So every time someone is taking a chance on someone, something good seems to be happening!

Was asked to share. So here's mine!

When I finished from a top B School in India, I badly wanted a product management job in a consumer tech product company (internet company). I wanted to build stuff that could touch millions of lives. My big disadvantages were that
A. Only one company came on my school to hire for such a role (Yahoo!)
B. I had won several programming contests during my computer science engineering (before business school) but still had zero experience of working in a tech role in a company

Yahoo! decided NOT to take a chance on me after 7 rounds of interviews. Though I had a very strong academic background and had been to top schools, lack of prior experience working in tech meant that a lot fo big internet firms were not willing to consider me for PM roles (though I had done enough side projects to show I can build stuff).

I pestered a friend (who is now my cofounder Vignesh Girishankar ) who was a developer at Verizon working on their Set-Top Box software, to talk to his Director about a product role for Verizon FiOS TV. I had researched about their qam-ip hybrid set-top box, and was excited thinking of the possibilities. This Director interviewed me, and took the chance to actually create a new role for me - to work on identifying opportunities for new revenues streams or features out of the technology group, and present/sell the ideas to product management. I gladly grabbed the opportunity and started working closely with the tech and product team. 2 months into the job, the Product Management team in the US was impressed with what I was doing and took a chance on me. They let me join their team, though they weren't looking at expanding their team to India at that point in time.

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Lead UI / UX Designer at ArcTouch

There have been tons of people who have helped me along the way, but I am especially grateful my old creative director Matt Mulder. Despite my lack of experience in the motion graphics world, he took a chance on me while I was awkwardly getting my sea legs after graduation. Not only did he give me the opportunity to work at my favorite studio, Digital Kitchen, he took me under his wing and really helped me through that awkward transition from college into the working world. He was always a patient, supportive, and encouraging mentor throughout all of it. I learned a ton in the two and a half years I was there. Even though I moved away from the motion graphics industry to pursue more interactive design, I still feel like the all experience I gained there is still valuable and has been the catalyst for so many of the opportunities that have followed.

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Founder at Glyder

I graduated from UC Davis in 2007 and immediately moved to SF, with the intention of making a living as a freelance designer. I had no income and no clients, and underestimated the difficulty of the cold start in a new city. After several weeks I realized there was no way I would be able to make ends meet quickly enough, so I started looking for a job.

I interviewed and was offered a job as an Associate Web Producer at Affinity Labs. The job had no design, technical, or product responsibilities - it was basically a content curation & community management position. Two months after being hired, I was already feeling restless, and talked with Chris Michel, the Affinity Labs CEO, and Will Harbin, the VP of Product (now CEO of Kixeye) about my desire to start my own company.

They humored me and tried to explain that there was a lot of different skills needed to be a successful founder, and I might want to consider sticking around for a while to learn more before leaving to start something. Knowing that I wasn't going to be happy doing content & community work, they took a chance and offered to make me an associate product manager, where I would take over most of the UI design and product management for our community sites. I had very few qualifications for doing this job, but they gave me the opportunity to prove myself, and for that I'll always be grateful.

Several months later, Affinity Labs was acquired by Monster.com for $62M. My small equity stake gave me enough money to pay off my debts from college and a little extra money that I saved and eventually used to start my first company a few years later. Affinity Labs was a model company to work for - the veteran management team built the company from zero to exit in ~13 months (giving investors and team a win just before all hell broke loose in 2007/2008), created a great company culture and treated the team well. The experience gave me a great first impression of the startup world and made me excited to continue down the startup path.

Founder at Innervate

I love the idea of this conversation. Andrew Chen and Ryan Hoover asked me to comment, so I am glad to.

During my second year of law school I was "required" to get an internship. I chose to blow it off and focus all my time and efforts on my growing online business. One day my advisor called me into her office to tell me explain to me what "required" actually meant. She knew I had no desire to work in a big law firm and had a true passion for entrepreneurship. She sent me to meet with a former student who had just left his big law firm to join a startup. I met with him and their CEO Ben Constable. Apparently I was the 5th law student they had interviewed for some sort of research based internship. Ben quickly saw that I wasn't like any of the other law students. He hired me that day, not as an intern, but in biz dev. I spent 6 months with this startup K12Connect (sold to EdPay). Ben became my first investor in Duxter. Ben has always told me his investment was based on me, not our business, not our plan, not our market. He has been a mentor/advisor for years.

In retrospect the folks who took the biggest chance on me have been team members. The list would be too long to go on here, but many of them gave up or turned down better paying, higher benefit, easier, and often times more fun jobs. I'd like to say that all of them just "bought into the vision" but the truth is many of them put their faith in me. They took a big chance on me and I work my ass off everyday to make sure that faith was not misplaced.

Thanks Andrew Chen for the request to comment. I have a lot of people that come to mind, but right now, the one I feel most acutely is my co-founder at Feast. There's an immense amount of trust that comes with founding a company together, especially when it's your first time and you can't just say "Trust me, I've done this..." Most of the time it's "I don't know, but I'll find out!" Trusting the other person to be able to find the right answers, when you've put everything - your work, income, lifestyle, relationships, reputation - on the line, is the ultimate chance taking in my eyes. I'm really grateful that my co-founder decided to embark upon this adventure with me.

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My favorite thing about this article is that it reframes the "big break." For many, a big break is something that happens to you. It's that mystical moment in which the universe goes your way. A block disappears.

But that's not how it works. Thinking of it that way leads to statements like "if only I could catch a break." It makes authors grumble about best sellers who they believe lack talent.

I love this post because it reveals the Behind-the-Scenes of the Big Break. It's all about the person who saw your potential, and what you did when they said "ok, go for it."

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Allan A. Bargi, Developer at Burt AB Allan A. Bargi
Developer at Burt AB
Åke Brattberg, Designer at Opbeat Åke Brattberg
Designer at Opbeat