Life In A Startup
Wearing ripped jeans to work, lounging on a bean bag, and playing Ping-Pong with your boss whenever he/she is not in a mood for work. Life in a startup sounds like a dream come true. Years spent in a corporation serving the mysterious fat cats you never got the chance to meet can be soul draining – to such an extent that one might want to experience the other end of the job spectrum…
The term “start-up” is no longer as exotic as it once was. Every day we hear in the news how small companies possessing a great business idea ended up adding extra zeros to their value after another successful round of capitalization. Startups have become major competitors on the market and employee magnets, but still remain something close to a myth. Is it as good as they say it is?
The short answer is no. Startups function on the same basic laws of the market, and there is no magic word that turns a business idea into piles of cash without some effort attached to it. Each newcomer has to fight to stay alive. They do not play “Welcome to the Jungle”, but you get the idea!
It might sound unglamorous, but the business world emulates nature with incredible precision. We are talking about the gross stuff, the kind they do not show on TV. Companies chase, hunt, devour each other and are in a continuous fight over resources. While creationists still claim big organization came into being from nothing overnight, the consensus is that a painfully slow process of evolution takes startups all the way up the ladder; if they are fit enough to survive.
Did you ever wonder what is it is that drives a company forward?
The answer is shocking – a giant underground hamster named Pro-activity. For startups, it is both a maker and a breaker. In the corporate world, your average employee does not have to worry about being proactive as long as he/she can deal with the workload. Pro-activity springs from either the client or management and all you have to do is to put yourself to work. Not the same can be said about the unfortunate souls employed in startups 😉 Such companies rely on each one’s commitment and involvement. Life in a startup involves a lot of time devoted to coming up with initiatives, testing them, seeing what works, banging your head against the walls for what does not, and then getting yourself back to work.
Life in a startup teaches you everything about responsibilities, often by rubbing your nose in the mess you made.
Because of the small number of employees, all of them have a powerful impact on the activity of the company. The chain of command is often as short as asking your cool boss if it is okay to press execute. How could someone say no after a good game of Ping-Pong?
Back at the big mean corporation, making a mistake might not even count. You will always have a supervisor, superior, or that know-it-all gatekeeper whispering into your ear that you are about to do something wrong. Even in the remote possibility – none of that happens, the bureaucratic octopus holding you tight in its tentacles will allow you plenty of time to figure out the error.
Startups often move at neck-breaking speeds, trying to exploit windows that last for only a couple of days on the market.
Prepare to say goodbye to free time if you enlist with an emerging company as the word that brought joy to your soul – receives a new dictionary definition.
Evening? You mean that time of the day when you are the most productive. Why waste it?
Weekends? Don’t worry! You will catch up with free time on vacation.
Vacation? Why that’s the perfect time to embrace continuous learning. You do not want that salty water getting you all rusty.
Working in a startup all comes down to flexibility.
Everything, from pulling those cheek muscles up to mimic a smile when you are about to sacrifice your free time, to joining your female boss for an unscheduled yoga session right before lunch, requires some degree of flexibility.
Oh, and let us not forget how they will switch you from working in your favorite pajamas to meeting a high-end client without having the time to brush your teeth…
Corporations, on the other hand, are all about being as stiff as an old man’s hip joint. The quieter you are, and the less you flex those question muscles, the happier everyone else is. Do not question your job or the ethics behind it and, whatever you do, keep your damn improvement suggestions for yourself!
As somber as it might sound, working inside a startup does not mean you have to marry your boss.
However, that does not stop you from digging in his/her pockets. If a startup turns successful, all pack members get a fair share of the spoils. The fewer they are, the better 🙂
Sometimes the benefits can unexpectedly outweigh the costs. It certainly feels good to be rewarded generously for what, until that moment, seemed like a sweatshop. Patience is mandatory as startups often encounter cash flow problems that put them agonizingly close to default. On the other hand, the success of your big company attracts little to no significant reward for you. It simply means you are just a cog that did its job and there will always be stiffer white collars to take credit. Big companies are known for being the last places on Earth where cannibalism is alive today. Do not be surprised to find a colleague you took as a friend chewing on your hand and hoping you will not notice.
If the market itself is a jungle for start-ups, giant organizations have their very own ecosystem of predators and prey.
Ah, the atmosphere!
All folk tales centered on start-ups put a disproportionate accent on how you get free pizza, can show up in crocs, shorts, and unshaved legs, or, the cult classic, Ping-Pong with your boss.
Indeed, small companies that have barely taken their heads out of the ground tend to cultivate a more laid-back atmosphere, hoping to harness employee potential by making sure enough pleasant activities fill up the daily agenda. We talked about the dreaded flexibility that puts you in trouble. Well, now is the time to cherish it. Being able to show up when you want in the morning, to dress as you want, and not having to comply to an etiquette can save you a lot of nerves. Many employees who quit big companies do so because they feel their individuality is being crushed into the ground by the firm’s narcissism and the quest for an immaculate professional image.
We see a lot of justice being created by the small entities that minimize the importance of the external package and focus on what is inside.
Start-ups extract a lot of joy from teasing their employees with multitasking. Jobs can go broad, very broad, broad enough for you to want to crawl back to your tiny cubicle and greet the day’s routine with evergreen enthusiasm 😉 Jumping from one thing to another can lead to burn-outs, if practiced in the long-term. Like a muscle, your mind achieves its peak performance if you gradually expose it to similar tasks of increasing difficulty.
Nevertheless, young individuals can see their stay in a startup as a highly fecund period of learning. They still call it that – the process of treating your brain like a Thanksgiving Day turkey and stuffing it with information. Yes, you might acquire vast experience in a short time and end up with a Swiss army knife of skills, but disappointment is there, waiting around the corner. A stuffed turkey has the same amount of meat as an unstuffed one (essential knowledge, skills, and experience). It is up to you to decide how much you value the stuffing!
Ever rode a roller coaster? How about a startup coaster?
Young companies tend to behave exactly like a toddler discovering the world. One day you find it solving the Rubix cube by accident and the next one failing to reach the potty in time.
Being part of a startup means you need to get used to many ups and downs, all of them while dragging a mucky diaper. That is the moment when you miss your old company the most!
With business plans guaranteed to work, it is only a matter of setting your eyes on some figures and doing the math to see if you need to work harder or lay back and relax. It is like a fixed-speed Titanic, but without the iceberg and all the drama. The current might work against you, but your sheer size and power output are enough to counteract it and keep you on track. Startups, on the other hand, are like surfers. Always after the big wave, struggling to stay on top and praying not to be crushed by its brutality. Taming opportunity is not as glamorous as it might seem and many infant companies have perished without having troubadours to lament on their fate.
Life in a startup largely depends on luck and the business inspiration of your boss. It is worth spending time enrolled in a small venture, if you are certain you have the right people beside you. However, do not rush to judge their potential based on how cool their jokes are or how epic your Ping-Pong games turned out to be.
The risk here is making friends, feeling good, and forgetting your primary purposes – namely earning money and growing as a professional. If all startups were successful, we would not be talking about them in the first place. Natural selection plays its part when lines are drawn separating the ventures that survive from those who do not.
Valuable startups are obvious candidates to be bought off the market or incorporated by giants. Ever wondered how big guns like Microsoft or Facebook managed to build their monopolistic empires? The secret is simple and old as time. Suppress all that is rising and threatening your position on the market!
The conclusion is that life in a startup can be better or worse than in traditional companies.
The bottom line is that you need be prepared to make the leap and hold a certain amount of faith in your own powers, disregarding any of the challenges ahead.
A startup also works for you if you are not discouraged to live outside the comfort zone and can commit to a work schedule that might stretch chaotically across the 24/7. Another trait you need on your “resume” is that of negotiating payment. When the boss is like a friend to you and when work comes down your alley to be something you truly enjoy, it is easy to forget the fuel that would keep you going in the long term – billing projects according to the time and dedication you invested.
It might sound strange, but life inside a startup comes down to having a good sense of fashion.
Do not worry, ripped jeans and stinky snickers are still on the menu.
We are talking about the many hats you would have to wear throughout the time. A startup is all about being as lean as possible and do not act surprised to wear the hat of an accountant, editor, social media strategist, legal adviser. Tired of so many hats? We have even more.
Unfortunately, we do not have a magic hat to help you figure out the best fit for you, that would make it simple to choose between a startup and a corporation. This task is up to you…
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