BTU #57 – Alex Pedersen: Air Force to Google to Employee #5 at a Startup

“One [aspect of startups] is the uncertainty. I mean that in the macro level in the sense that at any moment the company could die. And I mean that at a more micro level in that you don’t always know what to do. You don’t know, should I spend the next 15 minutes calling back a customer, or should I spend it talking to a developer about the next product release, or should I spend it strategizing the next investor fundraising meeting. And there’s almost never an obvious answer. And so to say that you’re in a world of uncertainty is probably an understatement.”
– Alex Pedersen

Alex Pedersen is the COO of POLCO – an early stage startup that is a political participation platform for local governments. He started out at the Air Force Academy, after which he received his Masters of Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He served for seven years as an Air Force Officer, before transitioning directly to Google where he worked on Strategy, Planning & Analysis.

In this conversation, we cover a lot of topics, including:

  • What it’s like to be employee #5 at an early-stage company, and how this compares to Google
  • What it’s like to work as part of a distrubted team, where each team member is in a different location
  • An overview on the different types of ways you can raise funding for an early stage startup
  • And much, much more…

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Show Notes

  • 1:33 – Alex’s background
  • 2:00 – The moment Alex decided to leave the Air Force and how he approached that decision
  • 3:05 – How Alex approached his first job search after the military and how he found his way to Google
  • 6:06 – How Alex identified the companies at which he would like to work
  • 6:58 – How Alex applied on Google’s website and what the interview process was like
  • 7:32 – An overview of Alex’s first role at Google
  • 8:57 – A typical day at Google for Alex
  • 10:41 – Advice for other veterans seeking to apply at Google
  • 12:00 – Why Alex chose to not pursue another advanced degree after he left the military and before he entered into industry
  • 13:36 – How long it took Alex to land his first job after the military
  • 14:50 – How Alex made the decision to leave the certainty of Google to join a startup
  • 16:03 – How Alex met the Founders of his startup, POLCO
  • 16:50 – An overview of POLCO, Alex’s startup
  • 18:05 – What POLCO was like when Alex first joined
  • 18:56 – Advice to veterans about how to vet and evaluate an early stage startup
  • 21:43 – The contrast of going from Google to an employee with five employees
  • 23:23 – An overview of Alex’s role as COO at an early stage startup
  • 24:38 – What Alex’s day-to-day life looks like at an early stage startup
  • 25:45 – What it’s like to work as part of a distributed team, and how he stays in contact with his teammates
  • 27:23 – What Alex’s salary is like at an early stage startup
  • 28:35 – Alex’s experience raising funding for a startup and advice he’d give to other veterans considering raising funding
  • 31:57 – Indications that you may like life at an early stage startup, and indications that you may not like it
  • 34:52 – Advice on how to maintain balance in the midst of a chaotic, early stage startup
  • 36:50 – Advice on where to go to learn skills that will help you in an early stage startup
  • 38:20 – What lead Alex to pursue a role in operations as COO
  • 39:12 – What skills are necessary to be successful in operations
  • 41:28 – The most surprising aspect of Alex’s transition to civilian life
  • 43:00 – Habits that Alex had to break when he left the military
  • 45:12 – In what ways Alex felt ahead of his civilian counterparts, and the ways in which he needed to catch up
  • 48:17 – Final words of wisdom