I’m fast approaching my 1 year at the startup I work for and I can now recount the successes and failures that have gotten me this far. Everyone wants to work at a startup: the free food, the games, the relaxed attitude and dress code are all very attractive. While all that is exists, it’s also a lot of hard work. Here are my humble two cents. (Note: this is not a photo of my office, although it would be amazing to have a slide.)
1) Say Yes – No matter how big the project, how improbable the idea – always say yes. (Even if you no idea how the hell to do it.) Startup is all about trial by fire and making a lot of mistakes- it’s great because the culture allows for that. Google is your best friend, as are your colleagues. 9 times out of 10 I don’t know the answer to requests that my boss makes. But I’ve learned to get the answer.
2) Stay Hungry – Complacency doesn’t cut it. Even if you’re making your goals, you have to go above and beyond. Startup is about disruption and keeping one step ahead of the competition. And in adopting that mentality, you have to constantly think about fresh, innovative ideas to throw in the mix. No idea is too crazy.
3) Rule of 70/30 – Our business can get very technical and the tech-speak goes way above my head. But, my boss has taught me the rule of 70/30. When I’m reading something, my goal is to grasp at least 70% of what the article/blog post is saying. I have to look at something and say, “Why the heck does this matter?” The other 30% is negligible.
4) Iteration- As a perfectionist, this was the hardest thing for me to learn. I always wanted to turn out perfect slides/reports for my boss – but this would of course take longer than he was willing to wait for them. There’s power in iteration – and it pushes creative collaboration between me and my boss. Completion is a team effort.
5) Agility – When there’s a way to newsjack and capitalize on the moment – you seize it! You have to constantly keep your eyes and ears open to industry and general news. When you execute, the masses will pay attention and will not only notice your snark/wit, but your ability to move quickly and respond. That’s really the heart of what startup is about.
6) Flexibility – I’ve been in a meeting and have had my boss text me to drop everything because Mashable is calling. My boss has asked me to pull together complex reports/slide decks and will ask for them in 10 minutes. I could be working on something for 2 hours and then someone decides to scrap it and we don’t need it all. Point is, you have to be ready for anything and everything.
7) Move On- Sometimes you get roadblocked on a project and can’t do anything on it or have a really bad day because of someone’s inane comment. You have approximately 30 seconds to grieve and then move on. Things move so quickly so you have to be able to pick yourself up just the same.
8) Stamina- Startup is not for the faint of heart. You work late, protracted hours and you’ll find yourself overly fatigued and caffeinated. You have to be a mind over matter kind of person and to keep the big picture in mind. When I’m tired, I think about what I’m building and I take pride in knowing that I can point to it one day and say, “I did that.”
9) Maintain Boundaries- Because you work a lot, you have to make boundaries to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance. When I open up my laptop at home, I set an alarm for 30 minutes and I’m not allowed to work more than that. It’s a bit extreme but it helps me to make the most of that time, prioritize accordingly and only do what is absolutely necessary.
10) Don’t Take it Personal – I love startup because everyone is blunt as f*ck. It’s great because there isn’t any bullshit to read through, because people will tell you exactly what they feel and what they need from you. That kind of feedback can be hard for an overly sensitive person. You just have to know that it’s not personal. Impassioned comments come from people who care about the business and the product. I’d rather have that fire, than people who don’t care at all.