What I’ve Learned Working As Employee #8 At A Startup
Trust me, this is the real deal.
Probably one of the hottest buzz-words of the decade.
You know, stories of exceedingly young founders working 25 hours a day and bootstrapping a company from their basement to some insane valuation?
Oh, and don’t forget about the notorious unicorns — startups like Airbnb, Uber, and Dropbox — all giant companies in the Silicon ‘Valley’, valued at over $1B.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be at the start of something huge? Well, if you’re not already working at one — you’re probably wondering if the startup life is right for you. Well, I’m working at one right now — and I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far with you.
Lessons From Working At A Startup
If you’re wondering, I’ve been working at Biotein — a longevity research/biotech startup working on projects that help increase our healthy lifespans. They recruited me as Chief Of Web Development and Branding, and just yesterday, I became the head of their latest partner company — LightIR.
I think I was the eighth employee — so I’ve gotten to see quite a bit of cool things unfold pretty quickly— even if it’s only been around two months since I joined (I’m still the newest member of the team though). So far, I’ve only ever experienced the bio-side of the startup ecosystem, but in general, the theme for almost all startups is the same.
A great resource from Y-Combinator — THE world-renowned startup accelerator. Source
So, even though I can’t speak for how a software engineer job might look like in a quantum computing startup, you should still be able to get valuable info on the big picture of things if you’re considering the job.
But first things first — what even is a startup?
Even though I’m part of one, I’m going to trust Google on finding the definition of this one:
“A startup is a young, fast-growing company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a unique product or service and bring it to market.”
Except, a pandemic can change a couple of things.
All of us work remotely now — which might be a blessing in disguise, since some of a startup’s most valued resources are time and money — both of which you’d need to spend dealing with corporate offices in ordinary situations.
Speaking of work — it was honestly miles off from what I first expected. Now, this was probably the only aspect of the startup lifestyle where Biotein was different:
Everyone had flexible hours — even though we aimed for around 10 hours a week, we could choose to pull an all-nighter if we wanted to, or do nothing for a day if our schedules outside of work were packed. On average, I found myself working around 3–4 hours a day. Not too bad for a startup employee, don’t you think?
Aside from the fact that our work hours would make any early Amazon or Tesla employees feel jealous, this isn’t the case everywhere. Far from it. Most startups pride themselves on their team’s extra-long work hours — which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for sleep (or anything else, really).
Not to mention all the quirky things we’ve done — like chatting about our weirdest dreams on Slack (trust me, there were some wEIrD ones), or playing online mafia every other Wednesday.
An awesome video highlighting what to expect as a startup employee. Source.
Most people think that’s bizarre — but it makes for some insane teambuilding. Seriously, it’s crazy to think I know people from my startup even more than my close friends — and I’ve barely met any of them face-to-face. But one thing’s for sure — almost every startup has its unique way of getting people together. You’ll get what I mean when you join one.
In a startup, you can’t expect to get much done without working together, but you aren’t going to get much done if you can’t do things on your own too.
Unlike Microsoft or Apple, you can’t sit at a table, do your share of the work, and ask someone for help at every turn. And no, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask anyone for help when you’re stuck. Remember, if you’re joining a startup, you can bet that you’re not even going to have a tiny fraction of the people surrounding you
The best way to function in a startup environment is usually to support each other as much as possible — even more so than you would at any other company. The less of you there are, the more you have to rely on each other.
You’ve got to help others, and they’ll you whenever they can — just like a positive cycle. But at the same time, you have to be able to figure out the big things on your own. Because there’s less of you, you’re going to have to rely on yourself at times. Especially if you’re in charge of a project and no one’s there to hold your hand.
Oh, and startups fail. They fail a lot. This wasn’t a huge issue for me — Biotein was already a year-old by the time I joined (most companies end up failing in that time-frame), but try keeping this in the back of your mind:
If you’re working for a startup, you have a lot more control around its future than you could ever think. So just as much as a lot of startups fail, you should know that the actions you take could send it towards success.
It’s not just for you — the decisions you make are going to set the tone for thousands more that could join your company in the future. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like it that way:
“If it’s a revolution you’re trying to be a part of, most companies only ever start one in their lifetime. Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft all started their revolutions years ago. If you want to be part of the action, then you’ll have to join a startup to create your very own.”
We’re not a perfect startup. No one is. But I’m proud to say that we’ve done a great job of getting a team of dedicated people who support each other as much as they can — that’s something even the unicorns struggle to do.
Well, that was my entire startup experience — at least so far. Working at a startup like Biotein helped me learn more than I ever could while reading or listening to podcasts about it— it’s something you’ll have to experience yourself to know.
But more than anything — I see the Biotein more a team than a company. A group of people with a shared vision. That’s what a startup really is. I’ve never referred to us as anything else. Trust me — the feeling of togetherness is pretty hard to find in huge multinational corporations — it might even be hard to call a coworker an acquaintance.
But if you join a startup, I’m sure you’ll be surprised how close you’ll end up getting with people — especially if you take the time to understand everyone.
But regardless of whether joining a startup is something you’re thinking of or not, you heard it here first: Whatever you choose, do it — now. There’s really no reason to wait — just go for it. You’ll thank me later.
But for now, thanks for reading,
I love following my curiosity. I also love being concise.