Looking Back: How Did I End Up at Opendoor?

It’s been almost 2 years since I joined Opendoor and what an incredible ride it’s been. Looking at my notes from Nov-Dec’16, here’s the story.

Starting things is my default, whether it was thinking about how to capitalize on the fish wire craze in middle school or starting companies with friends after college. So when I left Polymail after we raised our round post-YC, with no plan, the first thing to do was figure out what should I build next. I spent most of October 2016 thinking about would follow. My notes/sketches show me all the things I thought were interesting: another productivity app 💌, a food-related consumer brand, something blockchain-related, a smart factory, and new retail experiences.

While I was dreaming about the next big thing to build, I also had a constraint—my visa status— that I hadn’t fully grasped the impact until an international student counsellor at UCLA reminded me, in November, that I had under 90 days left on my existing F-1 visa.  I had only until Jan’17 left in the US unless I found a job that could sponsor my F-1 visa’s STEM extension. Because this threw a wrench in my plans to start something new again, I needed to find a job (and quick).

In general, job searches aren’t a particularly fun experience but I got started on mine. Back when I initially left Polymail I emailed a few folks asking, “If you see something interesting, let me know” but it was time to ping people again. I didn’t know what role I wanted…I didn’t have any specific career goals other than being entrepreneurial and having an impact. As I thought about roles, I had experience and was excited to work on products, analytics, and growth. However, a role itself didn’t seem like the most important pillar when looking for the next opportunity. Instead, I established criteria of what I thought was important to me knowing it would help me make a decision. I had narrowed it down to:

  • Joining a full-stack startup: Having grown up around operations heavy businesses in India, I wanted to spend time working on a project that would have the whole stack—build the software and use it too.
  • Talent & Culture: I wanted to work at a place where people I knew and respected worked. I wanted to learn from them.
  • Scale: I hadn’t worked at a place yet that found product-market fit, scaled, and needed real management. This was something I needed to experience first-hand. Reading books or medium articles were not a substitute here.

There were a bunch of companies with interesting roles, but nothing really matched all three. Serendipitously, Vedika, my sister, who was then working at Stripe told me she swung by the offices of a hot new startup where her friend Logan worked at a place called Opendoor. I looked up the company and at first glance, it appeared to meet my three criteria. On LinkedIn, I noticed that I knew a few folks who worked there, including Simon who I had last met in NYC when he was fundraising for his company at that time.

Some backstory: Simon and I originally met in 2014 when he was working at Robinhood doing PR and I was running LA Hacks where the founders ended up showcasing their app for the very first time publicly. You could say the demo was interesting—ask him about it.

The original email

I swung by the office at 116 Montgomery on a weekend to meet with him. Once there, he introduced me to another PM who was also working the weekend and left us for an impromptu interview…surprise, surprise. To say that the interview didn’t go well would be an understatement. I was later told that the PM thought I was smart, but also thought I spoke too quick. I told him that if the PM I had met wasn’t interested in the next step, I’d still be interested in other roles. He referred me for a different, and more analytics-focused, role. I needed my visa and time was running out. I thought to myself, “Let’s get the job, get the visa renewed, and then see what to do next. I likely won’t last long at a company so big for more than 3-6 months anyway, but at least I’ll have my visa.”

The referral worked on getting an email back from Jac, a recruiter. We spoke on the phone and she sent me a take-home assignment which seemed straightforward enough to do.

22nd November
Email for the Take Home. My answers here.

One week later, 22nd of Nov, I had somehow forgotten about it in the midst of preparing for a slew of other interviews. I remembered only after I finished the on-site I had that day down in Palo Alto and decided to head to the Stanford coffee shop get this thing done before the end of the day. I finished by around 5 PM, phew. However, given the rush to finish, I didn’t expect a callback. Surprisingly, I heard back and soon found myself scheduling an on-site.

Even with a few offers on the table and the deadline for my visa continuing to approach, I wanted to hold out for Opendoor. Less than 48 hours later, I received a call back telling me more about the offer and the role. However, it came with a hurried deadline and a compensation package that differed drastically from the others. Pay didn’t make it onto the list because it was more of hygiene criteria as opposed to one you could pull the trigger based off of. This would be a bit of a bullet to bite but I was genuinely excited about the company which had satisfied the criteria I set out with and had the opportunity to have a big impact though.

I called back and said, “I’m ready to do this”. My boss-to-be at that time, Ryan Johnson, recommended coming in the next day.

The email exchange. Full thread here.  
Sunday, Dec 4th: RJ inviting me to Slack
I joined on my personal email account  

So on Dec 4th, I showed back up at 116 New Montgomery to start my first day at Opendoor. The first project was some product discovery work: call customers and see if they were interested in getting financing. Oh, boy! This was a sign of things to come.

Reflecting two years later, I’m grateful I made the decision I did. I’m lucky that the criteria lead me here to find each of three things I was looking for but also gave, and continues to give, me so much more. Also, the roles basically didn’t matter.

  • Full-Stack Startup: Opendoor really is a technology and operations business that builds software end-to-end and uses it too. Its fascinating problem set to have an opportunity to take on.
  • Talent: I’ve gotten to work with people I know, and made lots of friends with people I work with and respect. I’ve gotten also to recruit some amazing folk to come to join us too.
  • Scale: Opendoor has continued to grow and be successful and it’s amazing to work at a place where we’re impacting the lives of thousands of people every month during the most stressful transaction of their lives.

Thank you, Laura and Saige reviewing early drafts. 

By varadh

My general mission in life is to be helpful to people building products that have a positive impact on the world. If you're building something awesome, I'd love to chat: me@varadhja.in 🤖

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