"I work for a startup," they say, with a gleam in their eyes. Unlike yesteryears, working for IBM, Dell, Intel, or Infosys isn't as glamorous to a lot of the young folks out there. Okay, maybe not as much in India but admitting that they work for a startup doesn't make a lot of them flinch. Yes, it's become a statement that a lot of them relate to, and being a founder and an entrepreneur is definitely something that a lot of the youth aspire for.
Yes, there are the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) aspirants who eventually end up studying business and finding their way in top corporations and later end up starting their own companies. But many of them find their way right out of college or even drop out to join startups and be part of building something they're really proud of.
I've often been curious as to what drives the passion for many youngsters to work with entrepreneurs in startups? Some of them want to learn the nitty gritties of building, shaping and growing a startup in a hope to build their own dream some day while others are just awed by the way this culture has built itself and the amazing feeling of self satisfaction it brings to them.
Having said that, what are the aspects of learning that most students get from college that they bring to the table when they join smaller businesses or startups which probably grow and later on become the most talked about companies of the country? A question that is not easily answered, especially in a country where the education system still has a long way to go and the culture of individualistic learning is still native. The school of hard knocks is not very popular among regular students in India, but standing out and being a unique individual has quite as much become more accepted today.
It is challenging for a lot of the folks who go through mainstream education means to adapt to a completely dynamic and culturally different kind of a working environment than they expected, albeit there are the regular perks of the flexibility, lenience on the attire, casual and informal workplace and other perks of a startup culture that allows them to find their own identity among the millions of others who are probably out there in the rat race doing almost the same thing as each other.
Here are some tips based on my experience over the years, to help individuals who aspire to work for startups and build their career to increase their learning, hopefully to become entrepreneurs themselves someday. So here it goes:
1. Don't expect everything to be hunky dory
It's a given, obviously, unlike in bigger corporations there are a lot of expectations that you need to manage rather than being pampered by the organization. Yes, you already know there will be challenges, but not just in the beginning or in the early stages, but probably every single day for quite a sustainable amount of time in your career. It is something you need to learn to live with. I mean, what's life without some challenges you'd say. Well, expect it to be an eternity and you'll never ever have to worry about it ever, throughout your working lives, whether you're with that startup or not or just an employee or become an entrepreneur yourself.
It may not be the case always and yes, things will change as the startup grows and builds itself further, but what's the harm in setting your mind to it. It certainly helps to reason with yourself. And yes, you'll have opportunities, to probably jot down feedback to provide to the CEOs and the VPs as they would be more approachable, especially in the early stage of a startup. But the trick is to set your mind and more often than none, try to be a hustler to solve problems on your own. At my office, our CEO has a note posted outside his cabin. "Are you part of the problem or a solution?" Ask yourself that a lot. It's like a build up for the future entrepreneur in you.
2. Be that intrapreneur before you become an entrepreneur
Yes, I'm sure you might have heard this term if you've read Eric Reiss' Lean Startup or generally heard someone fling it across to in your interviews maybe. What does it mean really to become that intrapreneur? How does it work? If you've read 'The Linchpin' by Seth Godin, you'd probably know all about it. But even if you haven't I'm not going to go all fancy with it because before this term was even coined, many people were Intrapreneurs back in the day. When the Industrial Age didn't even exist. Everyone had their own business and they had family helping out with those businesses, young ones being Intrapreneurs to one day take over the business and become entrepreneurs. Well, despite being a far fetched analogy of the past, I'd say, to be successful and add value to your startup and your own career, don't think that you're working for this startup, but think that YOU are the CEO of the startup. Think of it as your own company in your head and see where it takes you. Yes some of you would probably have stock options, some may not, but don't let that stop you. Don't let the money or the perks that you don't have come in between your future and your success. Every single day get up, have that morning coffee and know in your head that you are building this startup bit by bit and will partake in its success sooner or later, heck either ways, you are building your journey and your own career gaining all that experience.
3. Be part of the minute details, especially at the early stage
If you've joined the startup during inception or in its early stages, then this will most definitely give you an edge over a lot of the folks. Your value chain in the organizational build up will most certainly be counted for a lot more, no matter what role, designation or for that matter skills you bring to the fore. So, if you are part of key jobs, or not, every time you do it, do it with finesse. Be part of the decision making discussions, take time to share and contribute to things that will affect the future of the startup. Maybe at times you won't be involved, but whenever and wherever you get the opportunity, go ahead, share your opinion, thoughts and drive decisions that may result in new business, part of the culture within the organization or for that matter build better processes to help future employees of the startup.
4. Don't always 'go with the flow' when it comes to doing your job
Fundamentally, it's a good philosophy in life of 'going with the flow' and taking things the way they come. Don't worry, be happy is a good quotient in life, but a lot of times, that attitude may end up with you becoming a cog in the machine, many times when it comes to driving efficiency in the work you do in whatever role that you are in any given startup. A lot of times, people 'just do it' without actually giving serious consideration to what they're doing, why they are doing or what it really entails. This happens a lot in product startups, when there is lack of expertise at the senior level, even CEOs for that matter. Just because he/she is a CEO and you're a newbie, junior employee doesn't mean he/she is always right.
Challenge the status quo whenever you feel that things aren't making sense. Many a times, people just do stuff to "get it done" or find a workaround to somehow finish something they started, albeit shoddily or even being lazy. Do not, and I mean do not be a part of it if you can make the change. Give your suggestion, voice your opinion, try offering alternatives and solutions even if it makes your job harder but delivers results. Such actions are noticed by people who matter. In a service startup, it's mainly to "please the client". Remember, even clients aren't always right.
5. Value In Value Out: Your time will come
Many times you might end up being frustrated because all the efforts that you put in go into the dumpster and you may have started from scratch on a lot of the work that you have done. A lot of times, you'll lose your patience, for you'll realize that whatever hard/smart work you've put into the product you're building, the client you're serving hasn't been recognized by many, let alone the entire world. There's nothing you can take home to talk about to your friends, your folks and something that you could really brag about. Not that it really matters, but the point I'm trying to make is, that success will require enormous amount of patience and yes, like Rome, no startup was built in a day.
So take pleasure in the smallest of the things you do. Be happy about the small button you designed, the way you changed the form to get the feedback more intuitive or even for that matter, the creative idea despite being rejected, brought you joy to stimulate your intellectual self. Take that into your stride and start working again. As they say, "Keep Calm, Build Startup" Yeah, that. Use that as your vision statement and keep at it day in day out. You'll get there, even if you're probably not there to see that change, but small things that add value matter a lot. Sometimes you just have to let go.
Well, yes, these are some of the key things which have helped me in building a lot of things within my startup career. Helped me build the right attitude, flexible approach, learning to be a team player, be a self-starter and bring an entrepreneurial flair to my personality overall. Beyond that they've helped the startups I've worked with gain my knowledge, expertise, perseverance and build a culture to be part of the industry that I am today. But more than that they've helped me shape my thinking, my attributes in life as well as at work. Today, I don't know if I will be an entrepreneur myself, tomorrow, but I for sure know that these learnings have given me the confidence to be one hopefully. Hope you find them useful too. Do let me know what you think.