Big Things, Small Packages

Reid Hoffman famously described entrepreneurship as jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. As recent graduate with 8 weeks experience at a startup under my belt, there are plenty of people whose planes are far nearer completion than mine. But from what I’ve learned of startup life and culture so far, Hoffman’s claim, in relations to startups, is spot on.

Working in a startup with entrepreneurs who’ve had the guts to go it alone is by no means a smooth ride. The unpredictability and fast-paced approach can leave you with no option but to think on your feet, and some days more often than not, you may find yourself on a turbulent path.

But for every setback, there’s two steps forward. The agile nature and broad range of work that startups offer is a potent combination; and with the right conditions and components, can produce incredibly rewarding work indeed. I’ll be looking at the highs and lows of life at a startup, and ultimately look to show why startups provide entrepreneurs with the means to successfully soar into the world of business.

Learning To Fly

The first thing that struck me was the innate flexibility ingrained into the culture. If you’re onto a winner or something doesn’t work, you have the ability to build on your successes and rectify your mistakes quickly.  

Sitting down together on Monday mornings, our team decides exactly where the company is heading and what we’ll be focusing on. It certainly takes the edge off many people’s least favourite weekday.

With the flexible style of work comes a healthy dose of pressure. There’s no denying that more than most, working at a startup is hard work, and you’ll work hard. With inevitably smaller teams and budget than the corporate jungle, there’s always an expectation to deliver.

One of the original Mad Men, George Lois, believes ‘if you don’t burn out at the end of each day, you’re a bum’. He no doubt approves of startup culture, where you’ll learn to refill your tank quickly.

But you don’t end most days burnt out without good reason. Compared to a larger company where you’ll specialise in one particular skill, startups afford no such luxury as you find yourself getting involved with every aspect of the business.

I joined Glisser expecting to write for and help manage our online content, run some events and take charge of the social media. Boy was I wrong. Alongside that, I’ve been lucky enough to do everything from designing a CRM system, to coding newsletters and having blogs published, to even facilitating an event in Berlin.  I couldn’t have predicted the breadth of areas I’d be getting involved in, which is exactly what makes working at a startup so great: two days will never be the same.

Having said that, the cliché of startups going through growing pains remains as prevalent as ever: companies doing so well that they can’t hire people quick enough. Conversely, there will be no shortage of ideas for development, but the manpower might not be there. Identifying the inevitable problem isn’t the hard part, it’s fixing it that can prove tricky.

And yet, when you do fix that bug or seal that deal, the payoff is huge.

The Ride of Your Lives

I’ve simplified the differences between startups and their larger, bigger brothers.

These are your emotions working at a large corporation.

Low Frequency

Sure, there’s variety, but it’s never too demanding. You’re a small cog in a very big machine, and ultimately your successes won’t significantly impact the company.

Now these are your emotions at a startup.

High Frequency
You’re riding the mother of all rollercoasters. When you find a bug or simply don’t have the support required to fix your problem, there can be crashing lows. And yet, when you clinch that deal or make that elusive breakthrough, it all seems worth it.

Except, it’s not a rollercoaster at all.

At theme parks you whoop and scream during the descents, and tap your feet impatiently when climbing uphill, and at Glisser I certainly don’t wish our climbing successful ascents to end.

So it’s a reversercoaster. A brilliant bumpy ride of highs, lows, setbacks and progress, that can provide you with some of the most rewarding work of your career. Not only that, but there’s no need to ever get off the reversercoaster; this is one thrill that doesn’t have to end.

You might not be able to plan for life at a startup, but you can count on making up a large part of the machine, rather than being a small cog. And for those of you that manage to build your planes, prepare for the flight of your lives.

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