In the second half of my 30 years, I’ve had many different jobs in many different sectors, but this year is the first time I’ve worked directly for a startup. However, I’ve spent the last two years interviewing and training more than 100 Spanish startups and I think I know startups. It is on these experiences that I base my soliloquy today. (But feel free to prove me wrong!)
A startup belongs to its own special breed. Us human beings are risk averse and inherently resistant to change — it’s on these survival instincts that has us standing tall at the top of the food chain. This means working for a startup is completely against human nature. It’s totally illogical, often frustrating, tiring and even absurd sometimes. And that’s why I’m here to tell you why you probably want to avoid ever taking a job for a startup or, God forbid, starting a company yourself…
You should never work for a startup, if you are:
1. A loner
Outside of university sports, for better or worse, no team is as tight as a startup.
A startup is somewhere between a microcosm of a Fortune 500 company and of your extended family. It’s usually small — in two years, our team has gone from two to 21 — but it’s as diverse as one of the big guys. You have your extroverts like me and some of the customer success guys and, like probably any tech-based company, you have your introverts. If it’s a multinational one like ours, add to that at least four native languages in five different timezones, with 15 hours spanning from one to the other. In this fast-paced world of deadlines, communication is vital — formalities are lost quickly as you develop a bond with your coworkers. (For example, I’m based in Barcelona and I just met my Minsk co-workers for the first time at Tech Open-Air in Berlin, but since Skype and work have enabled us to know each other hard and fast, we were trying each other’s beers within hours like old pals — and, I, like Joey, do not typically share food.)
If you like to be left alone to push buttons from 9 to 5, a startup is not for you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be autonomous — startups definitely favor self-starters. It’s just that it’s truly a team effort in which everyone chips in. I proofread my co-workers’ work, while a shy developer will push himself and present about A/B testing to a room of 100 people, and somebody is always going to wind up wearing a sweet (and sweaty!) panda costume. Working for a startup is about finding your comfort zone and stepping out of it. Nope, step further… a little further… just a smidge more… there ya go. Now that you’re outside that box, what ideas did you come up with? If you like working in a team-based environment and you’re full of ideas, they will be heard and some of them tested out, some of them not. A loner is lost in such a collaborative environment.
2. A stick in the mud
Those risk-averse humans I mentioned? You need not apply. No matter what your role, you have to be ready, able and welcoming to learn something new every day. Your job constantly changes, which is great because you’re diversifying your portfolio and experience, and having fun doing it.
And you need to be detail-oriented, but the company probably won’t be and you need to be able to accept it. For example, the other day, I found out that our mailing address changed two months ago and I’d been using the wrong one to register on a LOT of sites. There was a minute of cussing, but then I got over it, tried to change the address where I could and then quickly moved on. It’s on you to prioritize your day. It’s on you to get shizz done and stay focused. The startup world is not one for pushovers who need to be told what to do and how to do it, although folks will happily teach you anything you want to know — it’s just your responsibility to ask. (Yesmen don’t last long either.)
You have to be ready to roll with the punches because every day your role, your product and/or the marketing of said product will evolve and change. So being a stick in the mud just won’t do.
3. A lazybones
Our company was born out of our founders not wanting to create business proposals — both in the tech mind, they are constantly looking for software shortcuts to automate stuff, especially the stuff they don’t want to do. Particularly working at a SaaS, making things easier is an obsession. And we definitely are obsessed with making our customers’ lives easier so they can enjoy their weekends — the back of our business cards even read: “I build software that helps you create winning sales proposals in half the time and party every Friday,” so you know we’ve got our priorities in order.
However, at a startup, there’s always something more to do and there’s always another opportunity to get the word out about your company. Everyone has to be involved with that, as each member is a first-line ambassador of your product or service. Everyone needs to be tweeting, liking and pinning, showing his or her intense company pride, spreading the word to friends and family. Similarly, everyone must attend events to learn new things in your market and to network with other startups, press and investors (or to sport a panda costume.) Marketing, sales, or development, like the Wildcats, we’re all in this together, and the lazybones will be left behind. (Now, being hungover at a startup conference, that’s another story…)
4. A luddite
This is sometimes me. Besides WordPress or social media, I’ve never really had to learn new tech tricks, and I’m a klutz in both the world of walking and the world of drag-and-dropping. I’m an adaptive extrovert, in everything except technology. I tried to create a simple headline image last month in Photoshop — it turned out to be literally the size of a school bus. So for me, this has been the part that’s hardest to accept: startups love technology. Tech startups are fanatics about it.
To work for a startup, you need to be adaptive to technologies because they are the first to want to automate things and try out other technology. Even though I’m just writing about the startups and doing the social networking, I really, truly had to buckle down and learn how our own services work and how to use them. In the end, it worked out well because I’m great for the idiot-proof, UX barometer. I even beta test our new product regularly because, if I can’t break it, it’s pretty bullet-proof. This doesn’t mean I’m in love with the idea of learning new tech tricks, but I’m certain I’ve grown as a person and probably developed an underused part of my left brain by having to adapt. (But don’t get me started on Photoshop.)
Who should work for a startup
If you don’t fall under these four personality types, then, at least once in your life, YOU should work for a startup!
But don’t worry about all of these reasons not to work for a startup — life in one moves too fast for you to even notice. The truth? I love my job. Sometimes I’m exhausted — but that’s because I’ll lose track of time and find I’ve been working for 12 hours straight (this is usually when my workmates or especially my boyfriend remind me to stop.) Sometimes I’m frustrated — but everyone rushes to respond and fix everything so quickly because we all have a stake in the fledgling company’s success. But always, my workdays are satisfying, exhilarating and certainly never boring.
What is your startup experience? What trends have you seen? Share your disasters and triumphs!