So you want to work at a startup? Whether this is a recent decision you’ve made, or a long-term dream you’ve held since before you even began studying for your degree, it’s one worth pursuing. If you find a role within a startup, the chances are you’ll meet some of the most interesting people you’ve ever met in your life – as well as encountering some pretty steep (but rewarding) learning curves.
The first thing to bear in mind should be obvious to anyone who has seriously considered working in this type of organisation – no two startups are the same. In fact, it’s probably one of the most wildly diverse areas in business right now. From design to technology to electronic retail, the world as we know it is being changed for the better by small, innovative firms with a new take on how to do business.
And while startup companies are generally in the Small to Medium business (SME)sector, it doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed to stay small. Take for instance the massively successful company Skyscanner, which grew from a handful of staff in its early days to a global company with offices from Edinburgh to Miami to Beijing. For this company – as for many others, it seems that the sky really is the limit.
Like many people who work at a startup, I’d only ever previously known more conventional workplaces. You know, the kind of large offices where everyone dresses conservatively and there are often quite big physical and cultural spaces that divide different departments. By comparison during your first days at a small startup company, you may be taken aback by how friendly everyone is. You’re likely to be on first name terms with the CEO during a short space of time – as well as the IT expert and the sales team. They may even all be the same person, while the company finds its commercial feat.
All of which brings me to my first piece of advice for startup beginners. This kind of working environment is definitely not for those who prefer to fly low under the radar. You don’t need to brash, loud or have an excess of confidence, but you’ll need to be able to think for yourself, and express your thoughts far more often than in many other jobs. This is a good thing – it builds your confidence quickly – all the more so because you know that your voice will be heard. People may not always agree with what you say – but hey, that’s just the give and take of being involved in real teamwork.
The second thing to bear in mind is that, in smaller companies, the more knowledge you have, the better placed you’ll be in order to develop your career. While this could be said of any size of business, it’s especially applicable here. Why? Because without the strictly defined roles offered by larger businesses, you may find your role developing in a more organic fashion. If you’re in the process of getting your own startup off the ground, you may want to call in favours from friends and family – as this guide from AXA Business points out. As an employee, though, it still pays to get all the information and advice you can and how you do that is simple – by networking. Even the most cursory dip in to the Twittersphere often brings you the thoughts of the thought-leaders within your industry – as well as the wisdom of those who, like yourself, are at the start of a startup career. And if you live in or near a large population centre, keep your ears to the ground for networking and social events. One of the most famous meet-ups of this type is the Silicon Drinkabout – which has grown legs and is now held in various locations across the UK. And even has an engaging blog. Well worth a look.
There’s no space in a short blog post for all the other stuff that you’ll encounter in a startup, so to sum things up, let’s look at a few concise bullet points:
- Be yourself. (If you can’t be yourself in a startup, you’ve either chosen a working environment that’s not best suited to you or you’ve chosen the wrong startup!)
- Be confident. Like I say above, you don’t need to be brash or loud. Look at your confidence as a work in progress and build on it as you go along.
- Be optimistic. If startups have one thing in common, it’s a positive outlook, even when things are ridiculously busy.
- Be prepared to work hard and get recognition for your achievements.