Have You Used Our Product?— My First Real Startup Interview.

“Have you used our product?”
“(alarmed!) Well… honestly… actually… no.”
“Then why don’t you try it and get back to me again?”
“(dude, I can’t code…) uh… okay”

Once upon a time, like 60 days ago in April 2013, there was this guy called DH from Korea. This is a story about the guy’s first real startup interview experience with Plivo. He considered it first because it was worlds apart from those interviews he had in the past. During the interview, he had three eye-opening questions which “I” am going to tell you in three parts, as if I were him. This is the first part.
Have you used our product?
My first interview took place when I barely understood what problem Plivo really solves. It was with Rachel, the community manager back then. Again honestly I understood very little about the company, much less the technology behind it. Of course, I haven’t even tried their product.
How did the interview go? It went awesome. I had a great 45-min talk with her, told what I have done in the past, and how I ended up in Finland: usual so-and-sos.
Then all of a sudden, “Hold on, let me put you through to Nishad”. Nishad was the engineer number one at the company. The moment I heard it, I began to run through what tricky questions that I thought would be asked for me and confirmed my confidence for them.
And we managed to talk for less than 3 minutes. Our talk was ended by one question from him and a sketchy answer by me:
“Have you used our product?”
“(alarmed!) Well… honestly… actually no.”
“Then why don’t you try it and get back to me again?”
“(dude, I can’t code…) uh… okay”

There was no coding ability mentioned in the job description:
I checked the job description again. There was no mention about coding ability there. But that was a silly question. How could one tell a great story about a product without having used it?
Plivo has a highly technical product, cloud telephony API. And the entry to barrier was set much higher than usual consumer apps like Facebook: I needed to learn how API works, how to set up a SIP endpoints and a softphone, how XML interacts with API, and so-and-so. What’s more, to launch a simplest feature like an outbound call, I had to use one of the languages like Python, Ruby, PHP or else. (Plivo API is language-agnostic.)
I thought I would likely be turned down anyway later, given my minimal programming experience and that I would still try. The moment I decided, I went to the living room and made enough coffee to keep me going. And I started reading whatever that seemed to help me learn what to do, which turned out later were not so relevant. Occasionally I could discover some breakthrough references which pointed me to what to do. “Learn Python the hard way” was one of them and it was perfect for a complete beginner to the programming language.
Veni Vidi Vici…?
1.5 days of learning marathon paid off. The next day I was half-dead and half-awake, totally exhausted. Then I mindlessly pressed enter to execute the script which hadn’t worked several dozens times already. All of a sudden, my cellphone was ringing. With no idea what’s happening, I picked it up and answered “Hi This is DH.”. No answer came. I thought the call was from some friend of mine.
Just when I was ready to slide deeper into frustration, I hit my head and realized what had just happened. The caller’s number wasn’t from Finland: it was from the U.S. and it matched exactly some random number I put in in my script. To test my assumption, I ran the script again, almost as neurotic as sleep-deprived at this point.
Thanks god. My phone began its weird electronic ringtone. Yes!!!! Victorious!! Immediately I got off to the living room and did my secret dance which can only be triggered by an encounter with truly pleasing moments.
I sent him an email that I got it working. And as he replies:
“congrats, could you push it to Github?”
Gosh. How the heck do I do that? I guess it was only the beginning of my long journey to become a Startup Lifer.
This is a post by DH, who is currently a marketing intern at Plivo – an AWS-like service for the phone. Plivo offers tools for developers to build anything they want to do with a telephone. With its simple API, you can quickly and easily prototype Voice and SMS applications. If you have any questions, share it to dh(at)plivo(dot)com For the latest updates, follow him on @DHfromKorea

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