Transitioning from the corporate world to a startup isn’t for everyone. In fact, very few people are properly prepared for this and even fewer of those people have what it takes to succeed. Whether you’ve already joined a startup or are contemplating taking the plunge, prepare yourself to stand out.
“In the startup world, you’re either a genius or an idiot. You’re never just an ordinary guy trying to get through the day.” ~ Marc Andreesen
The desire to be entrepreneurial is very popular, especially these days where startups are all over the press, in movies and soon to be reality shows. The hype surrounding the lifestyle, cool offices and potential payouts don’t even come close to representing what it’s really like to help build a company.
Hard work is an understatement and transforming your mind from a CYA (cover your ass) attitude to a COA (cover our ass) attitude is pivotal. Be prepared to forget what you know, reset your expectations, reprogram your drive and change your attitude completely.
Assuming a functional startup, here are some eye-opening mind hacks:
1) Meetings – Forget the mindless meetings for the sake of meetings protocol. You don’t need to be seen or heard by your superior(s) anymore. You just need to produce and your actions will tell your story. You will meet briefly, as needed, when needed because no one has time for that shit.
2) Politics – Office politics are non-existent. There’s theoretically no one to impress, avoid, outdo, coddle, align with or kiss up to. No need for a personal campaign here because your advancement and potential success are directly related to your hustle. No one’s stopping you.
3) Selling – Forget the dedicated sales team(s) and department(s) that you’re accustomed to because your job, regardless of the specific discipline, will require you to sell. Even if you’re not directly selling the product or service, you are selling the company and your faith in the endeavor to every single person around you.
4) Hours – If you’re used to virtually or physically punching in at 9 and doing the three-point stance at 5, you can forget that immediately. You do the work until it gets done and if that means “flex time”, as the corps call it, then have a schedule that’s conducive to your productivity.
5) Problems – As I mentioned above, you are no longer in CYA mode. The startup’s problems are your problems so embrace it. Transform your mental auto-responder from “S’not my problem” to “I’ll figure it out”. This is quintessential teamwork.
6) Motivation – Perhaps your previous role allowed for a more comfortable paycheck and that’s what motivated you. With startups, it’s all about the risk and the end game. Your motivation needs to transcend the immediate decrease in pay to something bigger like an awesome product or incredible experience or maybe even changing the world. Whatever gets your head in the game.
7) Structure – Fancy org charts only matter when you don’t know who the fuck does what in the company. Get used to operating in a flat structure where everyone’s opinion matters and directly impacts the bottom line. Paper-pushers have no place in startups. Doers matter and they can always powwow with the boss.
8) Support – Boy is it convenient to have an IT department that requisitions that new mouse for you in a few hours (if you’re lucky) or that HR department that has time to listen to your woes. Unfortunately, startups aren’t about convenience. Learn to troubleshoot your own issues and keep your problems at home. Most issues just require you to grow up and take action yourself. The occasional “real” concern will always be dealt with properly.
9) Pond – You’re finally a big fish in a small pond so you will be heard. However, that can be a double-edged sword. Layers are gone so there’s no one there to protect your stupidity but everyone’s there to appreciate your genius. Be the ball that you always wanted to be and shine.
10) Job – Forget your carefully structured and sequential chores of A, B, C and D. Your TPS reports don’t matter and the gold stars don’t mean shit. Prepare yourself for what I like to call organized chaos. You will do what needs to be done when it needs to be done regardless of what you think you’re there for. You’ll want to.
11) Perks – They’re different from what you’re used to so learn to appreciate them. You’ll probably have “benefits” like health, vacation, PTO days (if you’re lucky) but the real perks are a bit more refreshing. Notice your surroundings, the vibe, the team, the attitude, the lack of melancholy, the distaste for mediocrity and the sense of pride. It’s infectious.
12) Trust – You’re likely coming from an environment where you trusted a few teammates or maybe even your superior(s) if you were lucky. However, at the end of the day, it was all about feudalism and the Lord of the Flies mentality to get ahead. Welcome to an environment where you trust the whole get’er done roster, from top to bottom, because you all have a vested interest in the success of the company.
13) Talent – I mentioned that mediocrity has absolutely no place in well-run startups and that all stems from the first hire. Big corps sometimes lose sight of this because, well, they’re big and have long since made hiring decisions that are far removed from the A players. Smart people tend to hang out with smart people so if you’ve been chosen for this game, consider it an honor and don’t disappoint.
You’re finally going to go from a deckhand to a rower and you’ll experience the concept of teamwork like you never have before. You’ll also have your share of highs and lows during this ride.
If you’re mentally, physically and emotionally prepared, reinvent yourself to embrace the startup culture, especially if you have skin in the game because then it’s your checkbook too. You can’t half-ass it!