A startup has a life but the people who breathe life into it…, well, they usually don't.
The HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley” captures the “startup life” and brings to the screen the challenges that the founding team faces and overcomes. HBO has done a great job bringing out the anxiety, thrill, frustration, egomania, greed, triumph, and lack of EQ that flux in the tech startup scene. Moreover, as a result, many people got a good glimpse into the life of tech entrepreneurs.
People like the idea of a startup. It is romantic. The excitement diminishes when they find out the extent of their responsibility and compensation. Basically, most people really want to work for Google. Google is a multibillion-dollar behemoth that has all the risk management tools and processes to support it. And yes! They still have all the perks and cool parties at the end of Google I/O.
In this post, I’ll refer to early-stage and pre-growth startups.
Startup life is hard
Startup life is hard. It is hard for many reasons. The first reason is a lot of work with small to no-compensation.
I am sure that you do your best at any job. In a startup, you will need to do your best in multiple roles. It doesn’t matter if you are the founder or an underwriter that just joined an InusrTech startup, you are going to switch hats numerous times during the workday. The lack of focus and the mental reset when switching hats carriers a toll and can be cumbersome for many people. On the other hand, it is a haven for Jack of all trades and people who would like to grow in new directions.
If it is not enough, you are critical to the success, or failure, of the company. No pressure!
The team is small, and therefore every person counts. That means that you can not slack off, push deliverables to a later date or drop the ball because there is no one else to pick up it up for you. The upside is that your job matters and it has an impact. I interviewed an entrepreneur that said, “I hire people that not only don’t drop the ball, but they will also look for a ball to catch.” #dodgeball
Startups are agile and nimble. The small and no-time for BS team is a platform for quick decision making, short processes and lack of red tape. These properties are essential for startups to overcome internal and external threats. #pivot
An early-stage startup focuses on developing a product and finding a market fit. An unexpected signal introduces noise and increases the entropy. A typical work day can include news about competitors that will drag product and market discussions, a system that went down will halt development and enter the tech team to debug mode, an unscheduled demo, reprioritization, or HR handholding. All of these take the effort of track and harms the business development. It is unavoidable but manageable. Startups thrive on people that can masterfully handle the uncertainty and enjoy it.
The chaos is also an emotional roller coaster. One day you are up, the next day you learn, for example, that your champion in a strategic client left the company and you need to re-start a 12 months vendor cycle, that you don’t have, with the “new guy.” Or, as another example, Amazon comes out with a new service that renders your product obsolete. This, of course, can apply to various industries; it is not limited to startups.
Personal comfort and resilience
Working in a startup means that you sacrificed financial and personal growth. You invested a salary, or long nights, for a dream that that startup will be successful. Understanding the risk and the return is important, but one should avoid thinking of it on a daily basis.
“Think of your work as a calling with a mission that matters”
— Laszlo Bock.