Apr 23

How To Get Hired By Startups

Learn from a startup founder on what we look for when hiring designers. This article is for freelancers, agencies, and studios. This isn’t for full time hires, but the knowledge is still applicable.

Last updated: 04/19/2023

Okay so you’re a designer and you want to get hired by startups. However, getting hired by a startup can be challenging, as startups often have limited resources and a specific vision for their team. And they’re constantly being annoyed by people asking to hire them. You need to stand out. In this blog post, we will discuss the steps you can take to increase your chances of getting hired by a startup.

We'll cover everything from researching potential startups, to crafting a compelling resume and cover letter, to nailing the interview process, and ultimately demonstrating your value to the company. And this is being written by Masud, founder of a YC backed startup who hired many designers. So you’re going to get the tricks directly from a person who is your customer.


It isn’t really a numbers games if you know who your customers are and know they need your service. Don’t be a fool and email blast thousands of people, because that’s going to land in spam real quick. I can tell if I want to hire someone or respond “unsubscribe” within seconds of opening an email.

Two of the important criteria's you’re going to look for is if they’re funded and when was the last funding round. The reason why this is important is because you don’t want to try to get hired by a startup that has no money to spend. And a recently funded startup does one thing very quickly after raising a round, blow a crap ton of money of money hiring. Also, you want to find out how big their round was. If it’s less than $50k, don’t waste your time, they’ll probably be hiring engineers with that. You also want to look for early stage startups so Pre-seed, seed, and series A. Anything above that has too much red tape and slow decision making. There are outliers though, but we’re not gonna care about that here.

You want to target companies that recently raised a funding round, because this means they have money to spend. Don't waste time with companies that are broke.


Crunchbase has the most up to date list of startups that has been funded. It has a free trial and i strongly recommend taking advantage of it and giving it a solid try.

What you’re going to do is go to the advanced search and filter for companies that did a funding round in the last 60 days and was a Pre-seed, Seed, or Series A. You want to stick to early stage for now because these people make decisions FAST. If you’re specializing in certain companies, I recommend you filter for that niche as well. Take this list of companies and put it on an excel sheet. Remember to include the CEOs email, linkedin, and website.

crunchbase filter
Find the email, linkedin, and website for these companies. This is your leads list.


YC is a startup accelerator (Queue was in it in S20!) and is known for funding some of the best startups in the world. And YC has a thing called Demo Day, where founders raise money and start hiring to scale. So they’re a great resource to reach out to.

You’re going to filter for their latest batch and is usually ~200 companies. It’s not a lot, but these 200 companies care a lot about product, design, and engineering. So they’re prime targets for you. Add them to your excel sheet with the CEOs email, linkedin, and website.

Your leads. Find the email of the ceo, linkedin, and website.


We’re going to take your leads list and start using it now. There’s going to be 3 steps to this process.

Personalize the first email you send to them, and then put them into a 4-email follow-up sequence that is automated.

Step 1: Cold email

Do you know the #1 thing missing from majority of the emails i get from people wanting me to hire them? You’d think it’s common sense, but it’s their portfolio. For some reason, they always send me to their website that has basically nothing but cool animations no one gives a shit about.

Here’s an example of a killer cold email. Don’t copy this, please. Make your own email template and if you REALLY want to stand out and increase your chances of being hired by 10x, include a Loom recording of what you believe you can do for their software.

email template

Let’s dissect this email a bit. It includes a number of links and personalization. It firstly congratulates them on their recent funding round, so at least you’re not spam blasting this to everyone. It includes a link to your portfolio because that’s what they care about, not your years of experience. And a case study that proves you know their niche. And finally a call to action, which is your calendly link.

After you send this email, you’ll want to followup in 3 days to check in to see if they’ve read the email. The whole point of the followups is to get them to read the first email and respond to it. So your followup emails will be simple like “Hey, checking in. Did you have a chance to look at my portfolio? Does it fit what you’re looking for?”. You want to send 3 followups and you can automate this by using Sequences from various sales softwares like Hubspot.

Step 2: Linkedin

This is simple. Go to their linkedin and add them. Include in the message “Hey, i sent an email to you. Not sure if you saw it, but adding you on here just in case. Happy to paste the email here.”

The point of this is so you have another entryway to their inbox and to remind them to go see it. This also makes you seem less of a spammer because you took the work to find their linkedin.

Step 3: Website

This is a bold one, but i promise it’ll get their attention. Go to their website and find their live chat. MOST startups has this and always keeps an eye on it more than their email. Send a message similar to the email you sent, but a lot shorter. Remember to include the portfolio and a calendly link. Leave your email too.

Send an chat message on their website

The meeting

Okay so you got the meeting, congrats! Now is the part where you sell, BUT...not like a car salesman. The #1 thing startup founders are looking to see is if you're an expert in the space. They want to leave that call knowing they learned something new and that they can brag to their partners on how they found an absolute GOD. And showing your expertise to a startup founder isn't hard. They're most likely an engineer anyways, so they have very limited idea of what is needed in good design. This is where you come in.

The #1 thing startup founders are looking for is whether you're an expert in the space.

First 10-15 min

Spend 10-15 minutes asking questions about their company, product, and vision. Figure out exactly what they do and what their vision is so you can have a strong grasp on what they need. After all, we both know a B2C app is different from a B2B app. It's important you make them feel heard. Don't interrupt them and wait 2-3 seconds in silence before speaking yourself. Figure out what they want design wise as well. Asking for example websites or designs is very helpful here, and most of the time they already have something in mind. They will often say "I have no idea how to design. I'm going to leave it up to you." Don't be fooled by this. They have a good idea of what they want. Just ask for examples anyways.

Second 10-15 min

This is where you want to show your expertise. A good way to do this is by going over a case study similar to their company over screen share. Talk slowly and explain how you understood the companies goals, what they do, mockups, designs, feedback iteration, etc. If they can understand HOW you work and WHAT you do, they will feel more confident that you have your shit together. You don't need to tell them how they should design or brand themselves, but instead you need to show that you know what to do.

Last 5-10 min

In the last 5-10 minutes I want you to sell. This is where you ask them "Okay john, based on what you've seen, what do you think about it?". Listen and see how they answer the question. Are they staggering? Do they seem reluctant? If they say things like "sounds good", it probably doesn't. You want to hear something along the lines of "How much?". This lets you know they've made the decision and now it's about money. When this happens, explain to them how your pricing works and send over your contract that SAME DAY within 1-2 hours at the latest. The longer you wait, the more time they will spend looking at other designers and there goes your sale. You want to send that contract while they're still wowed by your talent.

Oh one final tip. If they don't decide to hire you on that call (which is normal and fine), ask them a very simple question. "If there's one thing that would hold your team back from moving forward, what would that be?" I used this when I talked to 20+ investors when fundraising for Queue and you'd be surprised how often they respond with something that you can clearly answer and remove their fear. I did that with a few and was able to close over $400,000+ because of it.

If there's one thing that would hold your team back from moving forward, what would that be?


I hope that was a helpful read. Remember to not spam, keep your messaging as short as possible, and show you're a human being. None of that "to whom it may concern" or "Hope you are doing well". We don't give a shit about that. Just get to the point, prove to me you're talented, and then we'll get in a call. It's honestly that simple. Oh remember to not have a crap portfolio as this will KILL your chances instantly.

I do plan on making a much longer one if enough requests comes in (tell me on if you want this). It would be more of a short "sales book" for agencies.