Most would agree that working for a startup is an exciting / stressful / fun / scary experience, and yes, all those emotions can exist together. I started working at Chameleon just over 30 days ago. I came from being employed with one of the biggest tech companies in the world, SAP.
Back in college, I worked full-time for another powerhouse in its respective industry — Bank of America. There are lots of benefits to starting off your career with a big company. Exposure to standard business processes, increased learning opportunities, and access to mentorship are all part of the deal.
Whether your early career is at a startup or a big corporation, one should not underestimate the importance of choosing the path that offers the most personal growth.
SAP was a great company to work for, and for anyone looking to work in enterprise software, I highly recommend them. But as much as I enjoyed working for them, I started to get the feeling that I wanted to do something new.
Part of me always wanted to be involved in a startup. I’ve wanted to help build something. I’ve wanted to make an impact, and I’ve wanted to have that feeling of being depended on. This past summer, I felt it was as good a time as any to make the leap.
If you want to know what a night and day switch feels like, try going from having 75,000 coworkers to 3.
By no means is 30 days enough time for me to know everything about working in a startup, and surely I have a lot to learn.
Nonetheless, in my inaugural 30 days, here are some of the biggest things I’ve come to realize:
1) Complexity is universal
Big companies are complicated, but startups are no exception. They encounter many similar problems, although at different scales. In a big company, it’s easy to attribute complexity to the size of an organization, overlap in teams, or handoffs in a process.
It shouldn’t be that complicated
When someone has a question, many times you don’t know who to ask for an answer. In a startup, there’s a similar problem — there’s probably nobody to ask.
Every company, big or small, must do the following: define product-market fit, figure out what customers are willing to pay, and create a team of great people to grow the business. Doing this with drastically fewer people is just as complicated as managing it at full scale.
2) Your work becomes a part of you
When I joined Chameleon, I expected to be working much longer hours, and that expectation certainly came to fruition. What I did not expect, however, the way in which I would become invested in my work.
I feel a sense of emotional ownership with our company like I’ve never felt before. Not only do I care about Chameleon’s success; it’s like it’s becoming an important part of who I am.
I’ve had to level up on my productivity hacks, and commit myself to a more regimented schedule. In doing so, I certainly have regained an appreciation for the importance of time (T. Brad Kielinski.
3) You need to build a network, and it takes a lot of hustle.
Everyone in a startup — actually everyone — should build a network. Whatever your domain, it’s invaluable to have a group of people you can collaborate with, get feedback from, and discuss your interests with.
Whether your goal is to identify a good job candidate, look for a group you can provide advice to, or get your newest blog post shared (hint, hint), these are all tasks best-accomplished through leveraging your network.
I don’t need to preach to all of you the value of networking, but hopefully we can all agree that your network should be meaningful and relevant. Unfortunately, the network I built in enterprise software doesn’t exactly translate to startup tech. Our interests are often different, and we can’t relate to each other as well. Since I made this change in my work, I’ve realized I really need to hustle to expand my network to startups, tech, and beyond.
One of the best ways I’ve started to do this is by attending tech meetups in San Francisco. I decide which meetups to attend based on the content, the speakers, and the audience. The people who attend the meetups are just as an important factor as the people who are speaking. Most of these events have time allotted for networking, which shouldn’t be taken for granted.
4) Insecurity and discomfort are inevitable.
Bear with me while I make my point, but I never expected to feel the insecurities I’ve experienced since I started working at a startup. That’s not to say I’m not confident or good with my work, but learning new things and doing stuff you’ve never done before is naturally uncomfortable!
I see this insecurity as something we should all seek out. You can be really good at doing the same thing for a long time, but you’ll never grow. There are a number of things I’m really good at, but for these new things, I have committed myself to Amy Cuddy’s motto:
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is one of the most viewed talks of all time.
This discomfort is exactly what I was looking for when I joined a startup. It’s akin to the discomfort you might feel when you eat spicy food — it’s hot, it’s uncomfortable, yet it’s exciting & you love it.
5) It’s rewarding as hell.
When I joined Chameleon, there was no shortage of people that told me, “You’re going to learn so much! You’ll get to wear so many different hats.”
If you read Caps for Sale as a kid, this should help paint some imagery.
I never realized just how rewarding it would be to be doing so many new things. In one day I might do content marketing, then do some legal work, and finish up by giving feedback on designs.
I want to help a lot of people, and Chameleon has a product that offers that chance. It feels empowering to be a part of critical company decisions, and damn it, it feels good to take part in building something from the ground up.
Whether you’re looking to make a similar transition, or you’re just plain trying to decide what your next career move should be, James Altucher does a great job in answering, “How Do I Know If I Should Take A Job At a Startup?”
There are a lot of things I’ve come to realize in my first 30 days working at a startup, but probably the most important is that I’m really happy I made this decision.