Whenever I tell people that I work at a startup, I typically get one of two reactions from them:
“Oh! That’s awesome—You’re so lucky!”
“Oh... Are they paying you enough?”
Depending on where you look, you’re bound to find companies that lend truth to both of these assumptions. But the reality of working at a startup—at least from my own experience—needs to be explored with a little more fairness and a lot more depth.
Here's the hard truth about what life is like at a startup and the personal values that will help you survive at one.
Value 1: You believe in Survival of the Fittest
A startup is very much a “sink or swim” environment. You need to be good enough and fast enough to contribute to the company’s growth. Whereas some organizations let job title and seniority dictate rank, a startup is a meritocracy where ability rules. And that can be a little intimidating when you first enter these waters.
It’s a lot easier to shut up and accept your place in a hierarchy than it is to assume the responsibility of having a voice and contributing well beyond the bullet points in your job description.
It's often "trial by fire", but startups offer the kind of environment that allows you to learn from your mistakes. In order to survive, however, you have to step up to keep up.
When I started at Uberflip, I felt I wasn’t up to snuff at first. Compared to everyone else here—all of whom were very good at what they did—I felt slightly out of my element. Though in my defense, I was initially hired for a Sales role before joining the Marketing team, where I could apply my background in writing.
That's another thing about startups: The nails are left to the hammers, the bolts are the responsibility of the wrenches, and someone like me is given the chance to do more damage on the content team.
Value 2: You love what you do (and can do it for hours on end)
“You need to be good at what you do” is sometimes how this value gets phrased. But I think passion is a prerequisite for proficiency. If you like what you do, you’ll do it more. And the more you do something, the more you’ll improve.
Practice takes no effort when it masquerades as play.
But the reason why it’s important at a startup is because you don’t look at where the hands are on the clock when you’re working, but where your own hands are in all the projects and tasks in front of you.
And that’s something a lot of startups look for when hiring. Back when I interviewed for a job at Uberflip, I remember asking a bad question that earned me a strange look in an otherwise great interview:
“What are the hours like?”
When you’re working at a startup, you’re not counting the paid hours in a day; you’re measuring the distance from the finish line in a series of sprints. The hours at a startup depend entirely on you: how much can you bite off and how fast can you chew.
Value 3: You believe in the power of collaboration
It doesn’t matter if you’re an awkward turtle or a social butterfly, you need to believe that people can accomplish great things by working together—leaning on each others’ strengths and covering for each others’ limitations.
When you’re trying to spur the kind of growth a startup needs, ideas are the seeds of growth and teamwork is the soil that nourishes them.
That's why workplace culture is important at a startup, because when a company is in growth mode it matters a lot that everyone gets along. Uberflip, for example, hires according to specific values to build out a team around which this collaborative environment can continue to thrive.
Value 4: You have a disruptive spirit
A successful startup is built on the foundation of a disruptive idea—something that seeks to open up new markets or introduce innovative applications that impact the world.
The folks who work at startups often embody these ideals too. “That’s the way it’s always been done” or “I just want to do the bare minimum” doesn’t really work at a startup.
It’s this larger-than-life attitude that characterizes a “startupper”. That’s why many startups value the entrepreneurial spirit (it’s even one of the core values here at Uberflip).
Value 5: You like when people can be themselves
At a startup, you’re pretty much allowed to be yourself (as long “you” aren’t a complete a**hole). As I said before, it’s a meritocracy. It matters more that you can work with your team to help the company grow, and less that you come in wearing sweat pants and a hoodie every day.
This sort of comfortable environment actually gives you a greater threshold for dealing with the pressures of your job, because you're free to crack jokes with your coworkers, unwind over a game of ping pong, or pop open a beer while you work.
It's nice to break away from the stiff professional atmosphere that dominates some workplace environments and actually get to know the people around you in a more honest way.
Optional Value #6: You like beer, ping pong, high fives, and plaid
Alright. While I agree that not all stereotypes hold water, this one about startups is generally true. Just look at these pictures from our Startupong event.
If you work at a startup, there’s probably drinking, playing ping pong, and high-fiving involved. And plaid.
It’s a little-known secret: People who work at startups love wearing plaid. Someone needs to conduct a study about it.
Of course, you don’t need to own any plaid shirts or play ping pong or drink beer or high five excessively. But it doesn't hurt ;)
The “young, hip, ambitious startup” might be a tired trope in the world of business, but I assure you it’s pretty damn well earned.
“Great minds think alike."
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