I started my career working in a startup. It’s not a normal route for a fresh-faced graduate. If anything, it was a baptism of fire. It taught me a lot about myself and how businesses grow. Fast forward seven years later, I am working in another startup. It has me reminiscing about what makes working in a startup so different.
1. Pivot, pivot, pivot
Embrace change and uncertainty. This environment can be invigorating as you’re exposed to new ideas. If your idea isn’t working then startups are not afraid to drop it and work on something new. In a non-startup world, some companies continue to build (the sunk cost fallacy).
Famously, Slack were building a game but found that their communications tool was proving popular. They pivoted to the tool, and the rest is history. Slack is now a multi-billion dollar company.
2. Forge ahead
You want to show your investors and your users that you are meeting their needs. Intuition and expertise drive decisions and shape the product’s trajectory. You build out the product and you are trying lots of new things.
Facebook’s motto was “Move fast and break things”. This underscores the value of gathering real life data and learning through rapid iteration. Larger organisations don’t always have this luxury. Prototyping is a valuable way to validate ideas. It avoids spending months building something no one will use. User testing and iterative refinement pave the way to eventual product-market alignment. This is the value design and user research brings.
3. Be prepared to wear many hats and to juggle!
Startups operate with limited resources, which can be both a challenge and an opportunity. When I started, I did everything from marketing, copywriting, product development, user research, invoicing, pitching to investors, hiring (you get the idea, it’s a lot). To get the most out of working in a startup, you want to give these a go. It gives you a rare exposure to different responsibilities in the workplace. It helped me find that I love product management! I had no concept of product development before I joined the startup. This exposure can expand your skill set and boost your versatility.
Hiring the right person can be a game-changer for your startup. It’s not the case you need to have worked in lots of different startups, all you need is a willingness to drive things forward, and get things done. Due to the small size of startup teams, you’ll develop close relationships with your colleagues. This camaraderie can foster a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, but it can lead to conflicts too. It’s hard to get away from someone when you are sitting in the same room as them.
In a startup, your contributions are visible and impactful. You’re not a cog in the machine; your work influences the company’s direction and success. This sense of ownership can be rewarding.
Photo by Los Muertos Crew: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-juggling-together-8895422/
4. Burnout balancing act
Startups demand a lot from you. I wanted the business to succeed, and I gave it everything. I worked long hours, sometimes on weekends to get things done. It can have an impact on your personal life. I worked 2 years at a startup. By the end, I needed a long holiday. Working at such a pace can be unsustainable. Over time I learnt how to set the right balance.
5. The founder sets the tone
Startups can live and die by their founder.
The founder of the start up I first joined, set expectations of what they were looking for. Each meeting needed an agenda. If it didn’t have one, they wouldn’t attend. For every meeting, I made sure it had a purpose and outcome. It’s a lesson I still use to this day.
Later, when I worked at another startup, the founder set a clear vision. I understood what mattered to them, it energised me, and I bought into the direction they wanted to take the product in. In essence, I believed in the mission.
Both had different styles but the culture permeated from them into the rest of the business. If the founder promotes a toxic environment, then the business will mirror that.
Working in a startup comes with its share of highs and lows. It requires adaptability, resilience, and a passion for pushing boundaries. If you thrive in an environment that challenges you daily, the world of startups might be your perfect fit.