I’m a startup enthusiast through and through; give me a seed stage unicorn over Google and Facebook any day. In my particular field, Customer Success, there’s something magical about creating the systems — sometimes the first of their kind — that a small business will use to connect with its customers. My job can look drastically different depending on the product but it also looks different depending on the stage of the company.
As someone who has dedicated their tech career to helping small companies thrive, I can easily say they offer a world of opportunity anyone looking to break into tech should explore. But it’s not for the weak. Here are some things to know before joining your first early stage startup.
Things Change Quickly and Sometimes Drastically
If that’s your thing then you’ll be right at home but for some people, rapid change can be extremely overwhelming. Not all founders start out with perfect change management skills. Things can move quickly at a startup and become disjointed and hard to follow. New programs get picked up and new processes put in place only to be dropped a month later in favor of something new or better. The product itself may become something completely different than what it was when you signed on.
If the changes help improve conditions, process or product, you’ve joined the right team. If the changes seem to make your life and other’s lives more hectic, it may be a sign better guidance is needed.
If you’re like me and enjoy a fast paced environment, where people are sharing exciting ideas and iterating on them, you may welcome the chaos.
Employee Churn is Jarring But Common
Often times people can slip in and out of large companies without anyone but their immediate peers knowing they were ever there. Things are different at startups. With small teams, you feel every arrival and every departure. It makes sense; startups are not for everyone. Pay can be low, benefits can be terrible or non-existent and the game of “Will We or Won’t We Make It” is not for the faint of heart.
When people leave small companies, founders can have trouble navigating the communication around the departures, making them ominous to the remaining employees. Some people get nervous when others are let go, thinking that they’re next. It’s important to remember that working in a small, challenging environment can be a pressure cooker for some people and they may choose to leave or be asked to leave because they can’t perform well.
Company culture ultimately plays a huge role in retention. Ask yourself if you’d rather walk into a place with an established culture or join at a stage where you can help design it.
You Have to Drink the Kool Aid
And ideally it’s a flavor you like.
Startup employees are often fueled by coffee, office snacks (remember those?) and passion. If you don’t love the product and the company mission, you’ll be miserable. It’s that simple.
Enjoying the environment you’re in and believing in the goal you’re working toward makes all the difference while working for a small company. Again, this is challenging work — you want all the joy you can get. Working for early stage companies means getting in right with the founders, who are excited to release their idea into the world. You’ll thrive if you’re as excited as they are.
Don’t fake it. Take the time to find a company whose mission resonates with you.
Opportunities Come at You Fast
In a fast paced environment there’s always the opportunity to try something new. Maybe it’s picking up a new project in your department or partnering with another department to make change. Maybe it’s a whole new role entirely.
Opportunity is a good thing but for an unorganized and unsure person it can feel like you’re being pulled in too many directions at once. Keep your eyes on your goals and get involved in things strategically. You do not — I repeat you do NOT — need to do everything.
Everything Can Fall Apart
The biggest fear many people have, and a valid one at that, is that the startup won’t make it. Sometimes they won’t — I’ve been there. If you’re a daredevil like me, that’s exciting to you. Since I work directly with customers and revenue, I get to play a large hand in whether the company is successful or not. I love it.
But I walk into each role aware of the possibility. I don’t dwell on it, I don’t let fear consume me, I let it fuel me. Regardless of your role in an early stage company, what you do matters. Maybe you never talk to a customer but they churn because of something you built or a process you designed.
In small companies every move matters and every move counts.
It Could Be the Best Time of Your Life
All that change, all the chaos could be what propels you into your dream career. It happened for me. Startups offer a wealth of opportunity, a plethora of chances to be your best self. Some of our brightest most innovative minds belong to the tech community and you could be among them.
Go into your new role with a positive attitude, and a bright eyed look at the future, it will pay off.
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I’m a Brooklyn based influencer who talks about tech careers and customer success. Nice to meet you.