I didn’t choose the startup life, the startup life chose me.
I don’t consider myself a startup aficionado, but most of my career has been spent at one. I’ve had meetings over ping pong tables, lounged on a fake indoor lawn and played foosball with a CFO at the office. I exist almost exclusively in flip flops.
To misquote the legendary Tupac Shakur, I didn’t choose the startup life; it chose me. Within 48 hours of being contacted by a spectacled inhouse recruiter, I was interviewed and offered a job by a fast-talking American to work at a Malaysian startup. In a little over year, I watched the company grow from being live in 4 markets to 24, and swell from 100 to over 600 employees.
Since then I’ve jumped ship to smaller startup in Bangkok, at an earlier stage of the life-cycle. It’s safe to say, for the time being I’ve found my footing in startups. I adore the flexibility, ownership and exhilaration. I thrive in this fast-paced environment, and revel the camaraderie that comes with it.
Whilst I got lucky diving headfirst into the startup world, there are things I wish someone told me first…
1) It’s not all fun and games
Don’t let the fun propaganda fool you. An office with graffiti or candy walls is very much still an office, and not everyday is a pizza party (though pizza parties are aplenty). You will be expected to work just as hard as any other corporate executive, and often, beyond what is expected of you. As with any rapidly-expanding business, cost-cutting measures and corporate restructuring are always around the corner; so, don’t get too comfortable on those beanbags!
2) You won’t get your own desk, but it doesn’t matter
Forget cubicles and closed doors. Startups promote an open-space, to foster a flat organizational structure. While there are titles in place, you won’t have to worry about leapfrogging to be heard. I never thought that at the age of 24 I could see my own ideas travel from conception to execution. The bright-eyed intern gets just as much say as the seasoned marketing professional. That doesn’t mean stupid ideas won’t be shut down…it does mean there’ll be an open forum for them to be heard.
3) Don’t listen to your mum and dad
I would normally never advocate going against your parents, but this is one instance I would. Startups are very much a phenomenon of the dot-com bubble, and didn’t gain popularity until 2010. Your parents’ perception and experience of work differs greatly from what you will experience at a startup. They will raise concerns of taking a job without a comprehensive dental plan, at a company that’s only a few months old. Ignore them. Do thorough research, speak to some people in the industry, and trust your gut.
4) Take it all with a pinch of salt
There will always be a level of uncertainty, which breeds gossip and speculation. Sudden departures of C-levels, appearances of enigmatic men in suits at the office or a dodgy piece in the media will call for all sorts of conspiracy theories. Panic might even ensue. Try not to pay too much attention to them. Unless you heard it from the horse’s mouth (in which case that Board Director should be sacked), you won’t ever get a clear picture.
5) Get ready for the rollercoaster ride of your lifetime
Prepare for the ultimate highs and lows. Some days will feel like all your Christmases coming at once, but there will some incredibly tough ones too. Celebrate the wins and lick your wounds for the losses, but remember that it’s part and parcel of the epic ride. Trust and understand in the vision of your startup, seek guidance in your bosses, and you will emerge a supercharged employee.
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