Becoming employee number five

By @ryantmcknight | Posted: February 05, 2018
Gift from the Industry Dive founders for my five years of service to the company.

This week marked my fifth year working full-time at Industry Dive.

And what an adventure it has been – from our small office in Dupont to a 50+ person company in Chinatown to a 100+ employee company in McPherson, two blocks from the White House.

How did it all begin? Here’s a quick look back describing how and why I joined the Dive team during the startup phase.

Rewind to late 2011. While researching Internet governance during grad school at LSE, I came across the backstories of high-achieving startup founders like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. I was awestruck and inspired; it seemed like these people were actually moving the needle, creating meaningful change in the world.

I wanted in. I wanted to help build something of value. I wanted to join a startup.

As I prepared for my final LSE exams, I started applying for various entry-level tech and design positions in DC and LA. Unfortunately, none of my initial leads panned out, and I returned to North Carolina when my lease expired in London.

To save money while continuing the job hunt, I stayed with my parents for a couple of months. During that time, I leveraged my novice web-development skills to customize a Wordpress portfolio template. The site highlighted my experience as a videographer and a few graphic and web design projects I had worked on in school.

My family did not have any startup connections or a background in tech, so I simply browsed the big job boards – Monster, Indeed, etc. As I came across positions I thought might be a good fit, I worked hard to tailor my application and sent out emails into the darkness.

One of the startups I contacted was Industry Dive, a DC-based B2B media company that was searching for a marketing intern.

Although I lacked a marketing background, I knew I could sell my enthusiasm and history of success in other areas.

Five hours after I emailed him a cover letter and resume, the COO, Ryan Willumson, replied to my message. He asked to set up a brief phone interview that week.

The intro call went well, and Willumson invited me to join the Industry Dive team for a period of ten weeks.

I accepted; it was a foot in the door at a startup, and I was thrilled.

As the internship start date neared, I drove up to Baltimore to stay with one of my undergrad roommates. I crashed on his couch for a couple of nights, driving to DC at 6am each morning to search for a sixth-month sublet. With only an internship secured, a grad school loan to repay, and dwindling savings, I couldn’t afford a longer lease.

After viewing about a dozen rooms in and around DC, I joined a four person group house in Alexandria. It was more than an hour commute to the office by public transit, but it worked well financially. I had saved just enough money from a job I held during grad school to cover the security deposit and first two months of rent.

A few weeks into the internship, the founders approached me about the possibility of a full-time position. They told me to come back to them with a salary number by the end of the week.

I was ecstatic.

Not wanting to lose this opportunity, I low-balled the salary number – or so I thought. The founders counter-offered. The counter was low enough, in fact, that I felt I had to move on. I told them that I appreciated the offer, but I would continue to look for a full-time position elsewhere.

A few days later, the founders surprised me again by reversing position. They said they were prepared to increase the offer to $3,500 per month ($42,000/year).

On January 8th, 2013, I signed a six-month contract.

I was in.

At the age of twenty-three, I had landed a job at a startup.

Industry Dive's Dupont office in early 2013.