Ann Javier ( @AnnMJavier ) is a Marketing Associate at Startup Institute, a career accelerator that helps individuals develop the skills, mindset, and network to get jobs at startups and thrive in high-growth careers
Throughout my college career, I got used to sitting back and going with the flow. From classes to internships, I was assigned mundane tasks I couldn’t wait to get over with; data entry day after day was under-stimulating, and I didn’t feel any value in my work. After two years as a payroll intern, I wanted more of a challenge. I no longer wanted to sigh every morning before going to work. I wanted to do work I actually cared about – work that I felt had a purpose. I also wanted to work with a group of like-minded, passionate, and fun people. I decided it was time for a change. Deciding to work in startups has completely changed my career path. In a short time, I’ve learned so much more than I did in that payroll cubicle.
Working at a startup, you’re never just another employee. You are a significant part of a team, or even a family. You get to collaborate with others and take initiative in spearheading your own projects. That being said, when you get a job at a startup you may not be accustomed to the fast pace and sometimes unclear organizational structure. I’ve compiled a list of eight tips for a smooth and speedy take-off into your startup career.
1. Learn the Lingo
In your first few days at a startup, you may feel like your coworkers are speaking a foreign language. What is a “seed round” and what the heck does “bootstrapping” mean? Get to know the startup lingo as quickly as possible so that you can add to the conversation. Success at a startup requires you to ask the tough questions, so don’t be afraid to get started from day one. Reading startup news via Cruchbase or Venture Beat can also help you get a better feel for the vocabulary.
2. Hit The Ground Running
Working at a startup, there’s a lot to get done with few people and little funding. There isn’t time to sit back and observe. Be ready to dive into projects and learn as you go. Don’t hesitate; just get the job done. Of course, ask questions when you run into blockers, but have confidence in your work. A phrase and meme popular with our students at Startup Institute gets this same point across– just “draw the f$%king owl.”
3. Communication is key
You and your team members are in this dynamic, sink-or-swim environment together and it is critical you are on the same page. You’re not always sitting right next to your team members; heck, you may not even be in the same state or country. Whether your company is working on a campaign, hosting an event, or launching a new product, it is important to have cohesion across the board. Be it morning standups or Google Hangouts, set aside time in your calendar for check-ins or feedback from your team.
Team standup at Startup Institute
4. Be flexible
Startups are small, and resources limited– it may be that you need to take on multiple roles. For example, I may be managing our social media presence one day and working on event-planning the next. Be prepared to pitch in wherever the need exists and be open to your role changing. Add value wherever, and whenever, you can, and don’t hesitate to dive into a learning new skillsets.
5. Networking is Necessary
Whether you’re new to startups or not, networking is important. In the growing tech world there is always something new to learn and interesting people to meet. Go to local events and find out what people are working on. Meet entrepreneurs, web developers, and designers to keep pulse on what is cutting-edge. The startup community can be small and people are willing to help each other by teaming up on a new project making warm introductions to potential hires. By frequenting local networking events, you’ll help your company to get their name out there, spread the gospel on new products, or find opportunities for strategic partnerships.
Networking following the Startup Institute Talent Expo
6. Phone. Wallet. Keys. Headphones.
This is my checklist before I walk out my front door every morning, and the headphones are essential. From my commute on the train to our noisy co-working space, my headphones and tunes keep me on track (no pun intended) for the day. Music can be used as your fuel to focus, or maybe just to drown out the two guys playing ping pong next to you. Aside from listening to your favorite jams, headphones are also wonderful for taking calls in the office.
7. Bond Over a Brew
Coffee or beer – your choice. The main idea is to bond with your team. The hours may be grueling, but one of the main draws of startup work is the people. Find time to relax and enjoy the company of your coworkers. Not only do these moments offer respite from the pace of your day-to-day, they build trust between colleagues– truly critical for intensity and intimacy of startup work.
Moving from my lonely cubicle to a collaborative, dynamic startup has infused my everyday with stimulating opportunities to grow and learn new skills. In the early days of your new startup career, it will take some time to find your sea-legs. My best advice is just to dive in, ask questions, and when things get tough (as they undoubtedly will), practice resiliency. Now, get out there and crush it!