This is an article based on my experience working with startups for 4+ years. I have previously worked with enterprises and product companies, but with startups, the kind of unique experience of having both creative freedom and increased responsibility was probably the most fulfilling in my career.
While startup culture is often glamorized with a whole lot of cool-looking offices, young vibrant engineers, there are a lot of challenges that are important to be prepared for.
In this article, I will share my experiences on why you should consider working at a startup and what to expect while working with startups.
Why work with Startups?
I think the best way to explain this in a single phrase would be 'If you can do it, you can lead it'. Startups are generally known for having small teams and while this may mean that your workload increases, it also offers creative freedom. You can shape your job description by simply raising your hand or offering a solution.
For example, while you might have been hired to do a developer job, you can still jump into your areas of interest such as design or documentation, and lead the way if there's an opportunity.
With startups, there aren't layers of management to weed through, so if you started off taking up a particular role and you realized that your skills probably suit a different role in the team, you have the freedom to explore such a thing and slowly turn that into your career.
There's a significant gap even today on what a university teaches and what skills are needed on a real job and the option to explore your career within a job is very liberating.
This one is my personal favorite. As humans, we have been in-built with a mechanism to resist failure. However, failure is essential to any kind of growth. In startups, you are burning your hands constantly. Everyone fails, and it's considered fine. Oftentimes there are no wrong answers and some solution that’s more correct than another one may well emerge as the winning formula. However, failure will not only make you a seasoned professional with hands-on learning but a resilient individual.
If you join a healthy startup, you’ll see the commitment and conviction of founders, and the team will hold onto each other – celebrating success together and taking failure in collective stride. As a result, you’ll become a problem solver, think outside the box, and build your ability to find creative solutions to problems, solutions that have the potential to move the needle significantly.
A Unified feeling and connecting over the mission
A startup team works shoulder-to-shoulder. You’ll spend a lot of hours collaborating with the same few people. Startup culture is very very important and the team will have to be a network of like-minded people who have the same agenda. This is super important because the emotional connection towards a unified cause increases your resolve and you'll push each other to grow and in return create long-lasting friendships out of the understanding.
While the above are certainly some of the reasons why you should try to work for a startup, I'll also want to mention a few points on what to expect while working with startups.
What to expect while working with Startups?
Be comfortable with uncertainty
You'll need to embrace uncertainty as much as the fish would take to the water or at least 80% of it. It is not easy for everyone to embrace uncertainly. Not at least at first, but, ensuring you communicate to the team certainly relives pressure from self and also ensures that everyone understands that you are charting unknown waters.
You'll be encountered with questions that no one has the answers to, even the founders, but this is what makes a startup so special – you’re finding out together. Once you are through one such experience, you would have learned a life skill of navigating through uncertainty.
Be Independent and a team player
While a healthy startup culture will rally the team together, understand how to structure your work. Let yourself be pushed outside of your comfort zone. At a startup, there is little traditional ‘management’. You’ll need to be a self-starter and know how to manage your time.
There will be days when it feels like a lot; stay motivated. You’re growing. Structuring how you spent your time and proactively checking in with your manager to ensure your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) remain aligned will help you stay on course and feel connected. Know when to ask for help and communicate with your team. Use your team as support and as a pillar of strength. I promise whatever you’re feeling you’re not alone, and reaching out will only help everyone involved.
Find your Sparkle
Self-doubt can be an outcome of all-round rapid development. Focus on the larger goal and your part in it. Ask where you shine. Sometimes we can’t see our own sparkle. Again, with little traditional ‘management’ the standard review process most likely won’t exist the way it does at large, established companies.
Ask for the time you need, but be sure to ask for clear feedback. Reflect on your KPIs to make sure that your goals are well aligned with the company. Everyone is low on resources and time is the most important, so be specific where you need support and take ownership of your projects.
Enjoy the ride
There may be frequent spurts of feedback and periods with none at all. Write it down and keep it for later. Time moves FAST in a startup. Make sure that you remember to write down all the lessons you learn because they will be vast. Keep a journal to remember what you did well, what you learned, and to keep the memories.
One of the startup customers I had worked with, Carlos, who's currently an Engineer Manager at Google, is still my close friend and I remember the fights, arguments, laughter, and euphoric moments that we celebrated together while taking an idea from concept to launch. It is still one of my most fond memories of my career.
To summarize while working in a startup has its challenges, it also is equally rewarding in terms of experience. Not everyone likes it or is up for a challenge as steep as working for a startup. But, I would urge you to consider working with a startup at least once in your career.
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