Startup or Corporate?
If you asked me where I saw myself in five years while I was in high school, I would have replied: living in a major, bustling city and working at a well-known fortune 500 company. Little did I know, I had an entrepreneurial spirit burning in me and it would get a chance to flicker in my future. Fast forward through high school and undergrad, I have had the opportunity to work at two great startups: a cutting-edge drone company called Drone Cast and a forward-thinking software company called Crelate.
While working at these start-ups, I’ve gotten the opportunity to grow personally and professionally while utilizing both my creative and research skills. Looking back, I am glad I followed my internal compass and went against the grain because what I gained in the long run has proven to be more valuable and fulfilling than I could have ever thought.
Lessons Learned from the Startup Life
1. Don’t put your name on anything you don’t believe in – even on a business card. Start Ups teach you very quickly not to invest your time in a business you don’t believe in. You want to be passionate about the career you have and the company you work for. You will find it very challenging to get out of bed in the morning if you don’t want to go to work. Working at a company whose goals and mission align with your own makes coming to work easier and increases your productivity.
2. You Will Learn to Walk In Different Shoes. I’m sure I am not the first one to tell you this and I know I won’t be the last – Start-Ups require a lot of work! Especially, during the initial phases. All employees will need to work together and be comfortable stepping in different roles. Though you may be hired for a specific position, you will most likely find yourself working in different areas of the company and even different fields completely. Take advantage of this opportunity to acquire new skills and get first-hand experience in other areas. This will only enhance your resume and help you develop as a professional.
3. Take Initiative. There will be many opportunities in startups to rise to the challenge and show why you are a leader and an asset to the company. Start-Ups always have a list of things that need to be done. If you see a problem, attempt to come up with a solution on your own. This will help you build confidence and demonstrate your work ethic and ability to work independently. If you have free time, don’t be afraid to find an issue and address it!
4. Be Resourceful. In a startup, there are often limited funds and copious expenses. Every expense needs to be accounted for and being cost-effective is one of the many ways, a start-up will achieve success. Thus, you will learn how to work with what you have. In life, you will not always have everything you need to achieve your goals. However, a startup environment prepares you to locate the people, resources and tools at your disposal and make the best out of them to get the job done.
5. Deadlines Are Your Best Friend. The only way you will be able to keep your head above all the work that needs to be done is deadlines. Even if a project or assignment does not have a specific deadline – give yourself one. Stay organized and on top of your work. You can either be in control of your work or your work will be in control of you. Deadlines help you achieve the former of the two.
6. Failure Births Knowledge. You will work hard and come up with creative ideas and still you will fail at times. However, every failure gives you knowledge. For a start-up, knowledge is key. Learning what to do and not to do, learning how your target market reacts to different things, and then adapting to that information is critical. It is not how you fall but what you do after you fall. Learn that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. Learn from your errors, adapt, and be grateful you acquired this knowledge sooner rather than later.
7. Celebrate Even the Little Achievements. You will find yourself working long hours and accomplishing many things in an ever-changing environment. Thus, there will be many opportunities to make time to pat yourself on the back and take a step back to look at what your hard work has achieved. There is no crime in relishing in your accomplishments. Start-Ups are rewarding. Make time to celebrate the big milestones and the moments where you just have to smile.
8. Never Lose Sight of the Big Picture. There is nothing wrong in celebrating occasionally, but do not lose sight of the big picture. It is easy to get caught up in your day to day activities and forget what you are working for. Remind yourself of why you decided to work for this company and your company’s overarching goal. This will help defog your vision and keep things in perspective for you. Always be mindful of your end goal and let this dictate the actions you take. Don’t sweat the little things and allow small stuff to take you away from your vision.
9. Go Above & Beyond. Whoever told you startups are easy has lied to you. There will be many long nights, countless bug fixes, and many caffeine runs to Starbucks. If you are expecting a cushiony 9-5 then a start-up is not for you. Start-ups require individuals that are persistent, tenacious, and not afraid to pull up their sleeves and work hard. You will realize early on that employees are a key function to a start-up’s success. It is the employees’ hard work that will propel start-ups past the first three years in which most startups fail. However, that hard work needs to transcend not only to your company but to your customers as well. Showing your customers that you are willing to go an extra mile for them is key in establishing loyal clients. Sometimes what you give is what you get. The amount of effort you put in will be proportionate to the results you see. So less talk and more action!
10. “You Can’t Win, If You Don’t Play” The answer is always no if you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Start-ups thrive when team members are inquisitive and creative. Ask daring questions and be willing to get honest answers and opinions. Welcome feedback and constructive criticism and be comfortable giving it. I found some of the most important questions to ask are: What can I do differently, How is my position impacting my goals and my company’s goals, What isn’t working, Are we getting the most important things right, and Am I happy with my current role?
Many thanks to Brittanie for contributing this awesome advice for people pursuing work at startups.
Brittanie Sanders is a Customer Success Specialist & Account Manager at Crelate, Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland. She has a business degree from Drexel University and has also worked as a poll worker for the Election Assistance Commission in Philadelphia, PA.