How a Bad Google Interview Turned Into a Startup (And a Great Story)
I get pitched all the time. What made this one different?
This is a story about a startup and a job interview. But it’s also about why the whole thing got my attention (and thus why I wrote about it).
He really wanted the job, and it was a pretty intense process: an introductory interview, followed by a technical phone interview, and then a full day with four interviews scheduled back to back.
During that last day, Burton was supposed to talk his way through a brand-new product that he'd designed at Google's behest, specifically mapping out the design and building a partial prototype for a "fitness class leader board."
As he explained afterward:
The bane of all product designers' lives is the dreaded "interview task." We all know the drill: You have "4-6 hours" to design a slick product, with a memorable brand and cohesive working method.
No one acknowledges the fact that in reality, you're about to dedicate up to five working days on this task, with the potential for them to ghost you straight afterwards.
Burton had scheduled a vacation in the south of France before he'd scheduled his interviews. But he badly wanted the job.
So he spent 30 hours of his trip "trying to make Google love me," as he later put it--staying up until 3 a.m. and skipping the beaches and bars to get the project done.
And then, after putting his all into it, he came up short. It was a close call, Google told him, but they went with someone else. They invited him to reapply in another year.
Burton was so embarrassed not to be chosen, he told me when we talked afterward, that he barely told anyone he'd even applied. He was very disappointed. But then, he thought of something else.
He took the 30-hour "interview task" prototype that he'd done for Google, added features, and built the whole thing out into an app called Tona. Beyond the leaderboard, Tona lets people record and share every facet of their workouts with friends, and also provides tools for gyms to increase client engagement.
He recruited a team, including a college friend named Dean McBride and another co-founder we can't name, since his day job doesn't know what he's up to yet.
They signed up 5,000 pre-launch subscribers plus five gyms and studios as business clients. Then, they officially launched this week.
‘I turned my interview into a startup’
Because I write for Inc.com, I get pitched on stories about new products almost every day. Some of them are great, some less so. But it's quite rare that I have the time to write about them.
But this one caught my eye. In fact, I actually sought Burton out in London. Why?
Honestly, it's because of the hook. The story.
Burton figured it out, talking at every turn about how he turned rejection from Google into a promising startup idea. He tells the story straightforwardly.
When he blogged about it, he just put it all out there: "I turned my interview task for Google into a startup."
The blog got picked up on Hacker News (the message boards associated with Y Combinator), which reinforced his company's listing on Product Hunt, which in turn led to another 1,000 signups.
Of course, I'm aware this is now becoming a bit meta since I'm writing about why I wrote about Tona — and thus giving it even more publicity, but I think the takeaway is worth it.
People are so close to their own stories at times that they can't explain why somebody else would find them interesting.
I've been through this many times with ghostwriting clients. We can talk three or four times--and it's only during that fifth time that you find the detail that you can build the entire story around.
I haven't tried Tona, and I don't know if it's a good product. I wish them luck, of course.
But thanks to Google, they've got a heck of an origin story. And sometimes that's a really big advantage.
(This is a repub of an article I originally wrote for Inc.com)