There’s a lot of great advice for how to advance your career out there, but getting ahead at a start-up is a different story. After all—how can you aim for a promotion when there might only be three roles at the company?
Uber employee Austin Geidt would know. In her two and a half years in the workforce, she's had a whirlwind career path already—and all within the start-up company. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she decided she wanted to work for black car service Uber and “bugged the team” until they took a chance on her. Starting out as an intern, she quickly developed her role in the company as Community Manager. As the company expanded, she hired her replacement and continued to advance—from Community Manager to Driver Operations Manager to her current position as Head of Launch, where she leads a team of 13 to bring Uber to new cities across the world.
We sat down with Austin to learn more about how she advanced her career in a small company and got her advice for others hoping to break into the start-up world.
What do you think contributed to Uber giving you a chance and then ultimately giving you more responsibility?
When I talk to people trying to get into start-ups, I tell them how important it is to just get in the door and hang on for dear life. Even when I first interviewed and they had me do some exercises, I just thought, I need to do something where I stand out. I made some pretty bold jokes in what I put together and had some wild ideas, and I’m really glad I did that, instead of just doing a more conservative presentation. I went really ballsy in what I put together because I knew I needed to stand out.
Then, once I got hired, I just worked really hard. I didn’t sleep, I was just constantly trying to prove my relevance. All I could think was, I will find a role and a way to be useful to you guys. I would get there before everyone and stay late. I still think of Uber as kind of my residency—my non-stop work—and I love it. But at the time, I was just trying to hang on until they saw how important I could be for this company.
Working at a start-up, people can feel stuck because there isn’t a clear path for advancement—the positions they want to be promoted to may not exist yet. How did you deal with that?
When I was an intern, I didn’t feel job security. We didn’t even have roles, we didn’t need any of those roles yet. There’s a level of uncertainty at the beginning, but now what I tell people is, “We don’t have a ton of verticals in the company—there are kind of four roles—so just work your butt off and earn your keep and if you’re amazing, we’ll figure out what’s next for you.”
I’m often used as an example of this because all of my roles were made up at the time, but I just kind of hung on. I also didn’t wait for a new role to be created, I just made it. I just started expanding. They didn’t even say, “Hey, go to Boston.” I just said, “Hey, FYI, I’m going to Boston. I’m going to go launch there, I have some candidates in mind.” It’s about taking that ownership and making a role instead of someone handing you something. You have to carve your own path.
When you’re working so hard, it’s really tough to find that work-life balance. Is that something you feel like you’ve figured out?
No, I don’t think I’ve cracked work-life balance. And I don’t think that’s just because of the job—I think I’m kind of a workaholic by choice. I’m just so excited about what we’re doing that I choose to do that for now.
It’s certainly my resolution to broaden the other pieces of life. Last year, I started to take time to make sure I was exercising, even when I was on the road a lot. I told all of my launchers, “Take a day of the week where you’re not working.” And I know they’re always on, but it’s important to take a day a week where they’re not opening their computers.
When I was launching Los Angeles, I got really lonely one day and that’s when I went to a dog shelter and picked up Dewey. It was something for me, which I needed to do. Granted, I didn’t think it through with my traveling lifestyle, but it’s been such a little blessing to be able to say, “I gotta go, I have to go walk the dog.” It has peeled me away from the office a little bit and given me something to care about outside of work.
Now that you’re on the other side of the table, what are the qualities that you look for in people to add to the team or to advance within the company?
It really depends on the role, but I always ask myself: Are they excited about what we’re doing, just really fired up about it? I really think enthusiasm for the brand is huge. Not just that they want the job, but that they really want to work for Uber.
I also look for people who can come to the table and not be conservative with their ideas. I look for people who can be on any level of a company and say, “I have some really interesting ideas for how we can make this better.” People who really want to brainstorm and not just play it safe. I want people who I can envision as leaders of the company someday.
Finally, I always look at what people do outside of work. I hired a guy who had a YouTube video for Beereal, where he mixes beer and cereal. And I’ve hired people who have built really cool products. What you do on the side is really interesting and tells a lot about what you like to do and what drives you. So, do side projects. I think those add a lot of character and show that you have a lot of ambition and are willing to learn.
A big thing, too, is that it’s got to be a two-way street. I may really like somebody, but I will paint her a picture of the worst day at Uber and make sure she’s okay with that. Because these jobs aren’t for everybody. Launching, you live out of a suitcase. And you get to travel the world and build a business from scratch, but I like to break it down for people so they know what they’re getting into.
Any other advice for people wanting to make their career in the start-up world?
Find all the start-ups you’re interested in, and just reach out like crazy. I think networking is really important in that. And I think the best hires I’ve made are through referrals, so really broaden your network and get involved.