Have you ever visited a hill station? As you go up the twirling roads and then look back, you find it amazing to see how far have you come, and then go back to pondering about the steep terrains that you have crossed! Well to draw in from my poetic start( big fan of Wordsworth btw :-)), this was how I felt, after having completed one year at my startup.
Well, where do I start, I was lucky to have two job offers even before passing out from college, both from top MNCs. Though I took a smart decision(or so I thought) of joining the better amongst them, after 9 long months after working there I realized that I am not going anywhere with my work; and I'm not happy.
So, what do you do when you are not happy? As a wise man(read one of the top recruitment leaders in India) had once told me, “You spend more than 50% of our awake-time working, if you do not love what you do, that’s a PROBLEM!” So, I decided to find my passion, shake off my fears and pursue it. And I did the coolest and scariest thing that I could think of, I joined a growing startup in a business role.
And, I think after spending almost a year here, I somehow can describe how working at a growing startup feels like(straight from my heart).
Discipline & Passion are your weapons
When you are in a small startup, it means you will have a gazillion of things going on every day. Your team will be small, maybe in single digits, and you will have some serious responsibilities, like loads and dozens of them.
There is going to be a lot of context switching, and you will never have a very clearly defined role, but yeah you are expected to be like a HYDRA with 6 different heads all working simultaneously at the same time and trust me it’s going to be fun.
The only way you can achieve this is by discipline and grit(passion + persistence). Talent, mettle are indeed very powerful words, but they will not define you, your dedication will. My place was located about 6 KM and 1.5 cab-hours(Bangalore people will get this) away from my office, and I used that time to monitor my daily activities or reply to pending emails.
Also, it is very important that you have the right professional attitude at work. There will be times when you and your teammates won't see eye to eye and that’s bound to happen in a fast pacing startup, but you cannot let you ego come in between. You just need to shrug it off and move on.
I have had a colleague who always came up with innovative ideas be it sales or marketing irrespective of the level of challenge, developers who are heavily burdened but will always solve the tiniest of customer complaints on priority even at 12 AM. It’s like every moment of your life, you have someone to inspire you, so much that you won’t even feel like lagging behind. Yeah, your adrenaline is all time high.
In the end, working at a startup truly transforms you from a fresh graduate to a professional, all without pinning down a stake through your passions.
You’ll be lost, BUT
Trust me, more often than not you will find yourself in an open sea struggling with freshly baked challenges. When I had joined AirCTO, I joined as a Digital Marketer. But very soon, one of our customer success guys had to leave, and as it was a very important role and since we had no time for hiring, I took his place.
And there it was, I was totally lost, it was like Sansa Stark sitting on the Iron Throne(Forgive the poor analogy). I had no idea about our customers and the standard procedures, I did not even know whose account was created when.
It was tough, in the beginning, but as time passed by, I actually started to enjoy it and found out that I really enjoy talking to real people besides strategizing marketing plans. In fact, it also helped me a lot in understanding our user pain points and was like a missile boost to my content writing and strategy.
A lot of people complain that there is too much mess and no quality work in a startup. Have you seen a house right before it is built? It is just a few bricks and a lot of mortar just lying around. What if the mason thought that it is all garbage? Similar is the case with a startup, everything will be unorganized, and that’s the beauty of it. It is in your hand what do you create out of it.
As for me, I used my knowledge gathered from speaking to customers and industry leaders to create technical articles for our blog which, I hope, would benefit many. So, here I am, after a year of experience in Sales, Marketing and Customer Success with several guest posts in some international HR blogs( HRTech Weekly, Wisp HR blog etc), and still ever eager to try new things every day; and trust me, when I had first joined, I could not even write a twitter post properly and would regularly get all my content checked by my fellow colleague.
So, my point is, you will be lost, sometimes in the worst way possible, but don’t worry mate, in the end, you are gonna be so much better than what you were. You’ll find yourself.
Some people will leave, and that’s okay
When you are in a startup, you are expected to grow along with the growth of the startup. You have to innovate and challenge yourself every day to do something better, you have to challenge yourself to do something innovative than you did the last day.
Working in a startup, is like a journey, in search for some destination which is yet unchartered. Taking risks is a part of what you do every day, as in the words of Einstein “A ship is always safe at the shore, and that is not what it is built for.”
Sadly, the colleagues you meet when you had joined, who would rather go on to become your bestest friends, won’t always be there.
Yes, You’ll see people go, over the months. It will make you sad that your dear mentor/friend had to leave for some reason. But, that’s life right? In a marathon, it is not everyone who can continue till the end of the race. Some drop off and some break some rules and some simply have some other calling.
What matters is the journey and you have to continue with it because if you do, you’ll get to meet many new and interesting people along the way, some of whom will become friends for life.
You’re accountable, but never alone
This is the major distinguishing factor which separates a startup from bigger companies. You’ll have all the freedom to improvise new plans but you’ll be the same person who will be expected to execute them. Every piece of code that you write, it can either add value to your beloved website or crash it. And the best part, everyone knows that you were the one to do it.
You’ll have super-energetic team-mates, who will work for important product releases day and night and who will stand by you even if you are in a fix. Most of them will be guys with a super positive attitude, some of them will be from ivy league colleges but you will have no idea until the topic comes up at a team-lunch or a movie-night.
In times of distress and emergencies, like when something very critical breaks, your teammates will own up to the mistake and sit together to solve the issue first, transparently.
After it is resolved, you will take lessons from it and go out for a quick refreshment. Absolutely zero blame game! This is because start-ups 'move fast and break things'. Naturally, if you are to move fast, you will break things and that's understandable.
The best part about people who work at startups is that they have seen the flip sides of life and they won’t rebuke you if you don’t know anything, they will guide you or maybe quote Elon Musk, “When something is IMPORTANT enough, you do it even if the ODDS are not in your favor.” You’ll always have a hand to pull you up, only if you want it to.
When you choose to work at a startup, you choose to be a grown-up. That is, you won't be spoon fed everything. You have to add value to the team on a regular basis, and the best way to do that is, Stop thinking it as your job and start thinking as your passion(I know I am repeating "passion" a heck load of times, big fan of it).
And as I had told you before, people would always be there to help you. When I first started working on customer success, I was in neck-deep water, but I had the support of my awesome colleagues, who would put their on-going work into hold and come up with suggestions on ways to improve the customer relationship.
Best part, there was no "I", it was always "we". It was never my individual problem, it was a collective problem, but yes, at the end of the day, it's you who have to innovate.
For example, churn rate was one of our problem, but the worse part was that we were doing nothing to understand what we were doing wrong, everything was in our heads and nothing in the form of clear tangible data points.
It was like the same maths problem going wrong over and over again. So, after having an internal discussion, we started tracking the important metrics, set-up biweekly calls with the customers and implemented their feedback accordingly.
After all this was done, we set up a tracking to see how it was adding value to our customers, and the response was pretty great. People were actually acknowledging our efforts.
You have a super-cool office
- Let me see, I have no dress-code and can wear slippers to work(Trust me, helps a lot in summers).
- My colleagues(read friends) are addicted to foosball, you know it’s 5 PM when everyone is off their seat, ready to form teams and beat the heck out of that little ball.
- We have bi-weekly team lunches. Trust me there is nothing better than a real conversation and butter chicken/paneer tikka. Wink
- Movie nights once in awhile, awesome team outings and pizza again. Yay!!
- Feeling tired after a hard day? You can go to that sofa/bean bag(you might have to fight with your colleague for this space), and have all the rest you want, no one minds!
At AirCTO, we have bi-weekly knowledge transfer sessions where we talk about our learnings. This proved to be very helpful for us to get all the teams(Marketing, Sales and Engineering) on the same page. Plus, our devs have an idea of SEO and we, the marketing people are familiar with MVC frameworks :)
Zero hierarchy!! Even the CEO or the CTO is like your friend, you can even discuss your personal problems if you like. The best part is everyone cares a lot, because somehow over the never-ending struggle to achieve something better, you are no longer colleagues, you are a family.
Working at a startup will be one of the greatest adventures which you will remember, maybe in the later part of your life. If you work hard and your startup takes off, you will know that once, once upon a time, a group of passionate young fellows had a dream, a dream to disrupt something, to build something new. Even if you fail, there will be lessons learned from it. After you work at a startup, no matter where you go, you will have learned some of the hardest lessons of life and will have the willpower to face any obstacles that come across in life, with a positive attitude.