My Journey to Retool — Part II

Sachit Bhat
8 min readSep 2, 2021
Image Credit: Unsplash

This is part 2 of my journey to Retool. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

Initial Filters

The startup ecosystem is booming, with endless opportunities ranging in industry, size, scope, and type. Fortunately, my musings from the other options provided a fairly clear set of constraints I could abide by. I knew these might change if faced with new data, but again, strong opinions, weakly held. At the top of my proposed company list, I created certain filters:

  • Type: Software, Enterprise Software, SaaS: I wanted to work with software in some capacity. I preferred enterprise software, with the belief that consumer products are naturally complicated due to user fickleness and changing demands. Businesses tend to face repeatable problems.
  • Core offering: technology product/service, product-driven: Many companies leverage software, but I prioritized a ‘product-driven’ company — that is, a company whose core value and offering was a software application. This did not include, for example, a car company that has an app.
  • HQ in SF: Been longing for $9 lattes.
  • Series: A-C, growth stage: I wanted a company that was both growing and hiring quickly. A company that was either starting to or had just found product-market fit and was scaling to meet demand. I’m intrigued by product development and wanted to experience this first-hand.
  • Clear Goals and Vision: A good startup should do one thing exceptionally well, not 12 things a little better than others. Most of my ideas on this came from Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. Focus on a small wedge of a dedicated market and continually work outwards. This was usually evident through the company mission statement and headline.
  • Personal Understanding of the Problem: Humans, including myself, are inherently selfish and look out for themselves. If I wasn’t joining a cause and company I intrinsically believed in, I knew I wouldn’t be able to give all that I was capable of.
  • Mobility within Company: While I would be joining under a certain title, I was looking for opportunity to touch multiple parts of the product and company. More specifically, working directly with the product while gaining exposure to operations and broader strategy.
  • Technology: Modern tech-stack: At the time, I was looking primarily for software engineering roles. I wanted to join a company that was leveraging cutting-edge tech where I could jump back into full-stack development.
  • Team: Young, hungry, and curious: Team is all too important, and I wanted a company in which I felt I had coworkers I could relate well with.

Curation

With these filters in place, it was time to begin executing. I knew there was no simple tool to just filter by my criteria, so I needed to work top-down to begin the vetting process. After my junior year, I worked as a fellow with True Ventures, an early-stage investment firm in San Francisco. I loved the experience and learned firsthand about the venture/startup ecosystem. I saw into the traditional funding process, the companies and founders they sought after, and the general venture backdrop. Funded startups typically have a bit more traction, which eliminated some of the uncertainties regarding future company state and personal risk. There was still an abundance of unknowns, but a lesser chance of potentially going under in the course of a few days. There are many successful bootstrapped companies out there, but I needed to filter quickly and swiftly.

To create the initial list, I needed funding data. Crunchbase is the best bet for this, though I quickly found how limiting their free option was, with only a few recent fundings per venture firm. I planned to sign up for the free trial and one additional month, but the paid plan only allowed for a yearly subscription amounting to nearly $400. No thanks!

Before starting the one-week trial on a Sunday, I listed out 15–20 venture firms and angel investors in the Bay Area I was familiar with and had a strong reputation. Startups are risky, but this helped to focus my search along with existing reputable backers. After sign up, I spent a few hours each day running through each of their last investments over the past ~3 years, noting any and all that either matched my criteria or just had a swanky logo 😏. I was quite liberal at first, and Crunchbase’s handy tooltip allowed me to easily view basic company information and description. I trusted my reactions, which were usually either immediately positive or not so much. I passed on any that didn’t excite me. This was an exercise in instincts paired with logical filters. Any company I liked I opened in a new tab for further digging. I opened ~20 companies per investor/firm, and then dug deeper into the company website, links, team, tech stack, and mission for further filtering. This cut down my list significantly and I was finally left with a total of roughly 60 companies.

For each company, I listed out the following columns in a table:

  • Company Name
  • Series (Seed, A, B, etc.)
  • Contacts
  • Description
  • HQ
  • Role/Tech Stack
  • Link/Notes

These closely mirrored the filters I had set in the initial stages and felt captured the relevant information needed to move forward.

Reaching Out

At this point, I felt quite hopeful about the prospects and excited about the next steps, reaching out. Unlike most large firms where the ‘culture’ is determined by individual team make-up and work, many startups in the earlier stages tend to align with certain cultural values and types of people. I wanted to join a group I felt naturally comfortable with, and that would only happen through conversation.

The week following my Crunchbase raid, I signed up for LinkedIn Premium and began messaging folks. I started with companies I had higher on my list, simply asking for some time to discuss opportunities. The reach outs were less successful than I had hoped. I reached out to about 45 people across 30+ companies in the first few weeks, but only heard from about 20–25 individuals. Luckily, this provided ample opportunity to move forward and temporarily ignore those I didn’t hear from.

The conversations were two-way. I was evaluating the people and company as much as they were evaluating me, and with it being so early, I felt little stress to have to perform like I would in an interview setting. The chats were usually short and efficient (no more than 20 minutes). I had questions prepared and knew what I was looking for, so was blunt about my inquiries and looked for signs that piqued my interest. Many of those that I talked to had also made a jump for themselves, so it was helpful to gain additional context.

I jotted down my own thoughts on each of the conversations as well as my excitement coming out of the talks so I could properly assess them later. Those that did align with my interests were apparent, and I often asked for an introduction to other team members in other parts of the business (software, growth, product, sales). If the first conversation had indeed gone well, they were usually happy to oblige.

Application and Interviews

After two-three informal conversations, I usually would ask what the next steps looked like, the application process, and how they could help. I usually passed along my resume at this step, which would get internally referred and passed on to the recruiter. Most of the startups I was looking at had similar processes, involving one or two phone screenings, a takehome or skill challenge, an onsite of some sort, and a final closing interview (with the founder or founding team member). While this seemed daunting in ways, it felt much less menacing than what the FAANG interview prep put me through. I put trust in myself. I had technical competency and was confident in bringing my opinions to the table. I was not trying to hack my way into any company, but rather find a fit in them as much as they saw in me.

I won’t dive into the specifics of each process, but fortunately, Retool was quite high on my list from the get-go, and one of the earlier applications I went through. I can’t give too much information on the interviews themselves, but I can attest to the fact that they felt natural. I was not putting on a face of my capabilities and skills, but transparent about my wants, hopes, and background. Retool has candidates meet with quite a few members of the team, allowing for more a holistic view of the company and operations. I do feel they properly assessed the skills and traits needed for success in the role while allowing for genuine conversation. I was in the loop with a few companies at this point, but the speed and efficiency that Retool acted on impressed me. I focused most of my attention on them. After moving past the onsite, I chatted with David, who articulated his assessment of the state of Retool and the path to be forged. It was a healthy discussion encompassing company culture, product direction, and where success fit into the org. I left feeling very excited.

Come a few days later, I received the offer to join. Woo!

Final Steps

I had a few options to consider after the initial application loop, but Retool stood above the rest. Marked against my filters, it fared particularly well. The product is an enterprise software application with a customer-facing aspect. The core offering is the software itself, which solves a specific problem that most developers have experienced. The team is (primarily) based in San Francisco and scaling at rapid speed, with a near boundless market. The role allows for visibility into sales, product, engineering, and strategy, all while retaining customer focus and vision.

And the team. The team is simply phenomenal.

Paired with an intrinsic emotional liking for the entire experience, the choice was made. I formally accepted the offer on August 26th, and start work on September 20th.

To Note

A few closing thoughts on these articles and the process:

  1. This is just one of many processes and methods for thinking about the job search. I tend to create mental models for most processes and fine-tune them as I go.
  2. This very well could be a case of survivorship bias. This is a success story and could have ended in rejection under other circumstances.
  3. I trusted my gut. One of my greatest learnings over the last year was the ability to create space to just listen to my emotions. Initial gut reactions aren’t meant for logical decisions, but can be very helpful for quickly eliminating options that don’t warrant a ‘Hell Yeah.’
  4. This was not a linear nor simple process. I was ghosted by firms I felt connected to, rejected after putting my best foot forward, and emotionally lost after weeks of soul-searching. It took months of realistic personal assessment to gauge my potential, and active efforts to make it work.

Retool has surpassed my expectations in every sense of the word, and I look forward to getting started in a few weeks.

With that, my first (of many) shameless plug: Retool is growing quickly and hiring for engineers, designers, and most everything else!

Lastly, please like and share this article if helpful in any capacity! I enjoyed writing it and hope you enjoyed reading.

I plan to move out to San Francisco in the next few months, so if you are around, let’s chat!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sachitbhat

-SB

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