10 Things I Learned Working for a Startup
Updated: Jul 20
1. How to Self-Motivate
When you work for an early-stage startup, there are no management hierarchies, lists of projects to complete, and tight deadlines to adhere to. For broader job roles like mine (marketing), the founders will hire you to create your own plan and set deadlines for yourself. They are already super busy trying to build a company from scratch. They need people to work with them, not for them.
There is a lot of trust in you to develop a plan of action and find a way to make it happen. This can make your job more challenging initially, especially if you are accustomed to routine and a more robotic structure. My previous role required no creativity, and while my schedule was sporadic, the work itself was pretty black and white, and it reached a point where no thinking is required at all (that's if there are no safety or medical issues).
Possessing intrinsic motivation is essential for surviving in a startup. The topic of motivation was one of the first things I read about when I began working at KinFitz & Co.
Extrinsic motivation hails from external rewards, while intrinsic motivation derives from a person's pure interest in something. Big corporates are all about extrinsic rewards and employee incentives such as bonuses, discounts, and endless other employee benefits.
However, working for a startup naturally doesn't offer these extrinsic rewards due to their small budgets; but what startups do provide is an excellent list of other perks. Startups may not give the best salaries or extrinsic rewards, but what they can offer is an endless opportunity to learn new skills and tap into various roles rather than one. They allow you to set your own goals and expectations and figure out how to use your creativity. But, intrinsic motivation is mandatory to do so.
Working for a startup is certainly not dull, as tasks change each day. While extrinsic motivators are great, startups require intrinsically motivated people hungry to learn and develop, who like versatility and are very creative - and these factors should be their primary motivators.
2. My Purpose and My Role [Job title: Figure it Out]
I work in marketing. Corporates build marketing teams - there's SEO Specialists, Graphic Designers, Content Writers, and so on. If someones missing, there's always expensive outsourcing to save the day. I had finished a postgrad in digital marketing shortly before joining KinFitz & Co., which is my first marketing role. As the only marketing person on the team, I had to figure out what areas to focus on and prioritize. While this is difficult at times, it has allowed me to explore multiple roles and find out what I enjoy most.
In the beginning, Ben & Liam introduced me to Dani, who would act as a mentor and give me advice when I needed it. In my first meeting with her, she asked, "do you have a description of your role?". And it was only with time that I realized what I tended to focus on the most and could define the role more clearly. At the moment, it's primarily content marketing, but as the company grows and I continue to learn, maybe it will change, and someone else will take my place.
If you are the type of person who likes to invest your everything in one job and do it well, startups may not be a good choice for you. However, if you're okay with your title getting twisted regularly to meet whatever requirements there are, then you could do well in a startup company. There is no room for a "that is not part of my job" mentality. If the founders need 4 PDF's edited first thing on a Sunday morning, be willing to move your to-do list around. Everyone works together.
3. Learning Never Stops.
One of the things that I love about KinFitz & Co. is that they are very pro-self-learning. They openly encourage me to create a learning list and allocate working hours to self-learning. Part of not having a clearly defined role allows you to take on multiple tasks that you may not otherwise learn. If I had accepted a junior SEO position, I wouldn't have learned about Email Marketing, Video Editing, and all the other skills I've picked up from being at a startup.
4. Trial & Error are Just How it Goes.
In an early-stage startup, when not enough people know who you are, everything operates through trial and error. This can be demotivating when your effort doesn't produce results, but when you see your work pay off, you feel extra great because being part of a small team means that your little achievements are highly recognized and appreciated.
I had spent a lot of time sending press releases to publications. After weeks of receiving false hope or no responses, we got our first publication in a popular UAE Magazine. When I found out that our article got published, we dropped what we were doing in the office and took a team walk to the supermarket to buy four (I think it was 4) copies.
5. You Don't Have to Hide from Leaders. [You can be pals; it's possible]
When you work in a team of 4 or 5, naturally, you get to know each other better and build stronger relationships. While I respect that Ben & Liam are my employers at the end of the day, they're also just two young lads who enjoy going for drinks and having a laugh.
6. Time Management
Strict working hours don't exist. During the onboarding process with KinFitz & Co, Ben & Liam emphasized that they weren't concerned about what time I started or finished work. It was up to me to manage my own time. This falls under my point about self-motivation, as working with startups will often mean that you decide how to manage your own time and how much time it takes you to feel like you've completed enough in one day. It is totally results orientated.
7. The World of Venture Capital.
Prior to working at KinFitz & Co., I had no idea what VC was and all of the funding stages involved. On my first day at the office, I was given a book called Mastering The VC Game by Jeffrey Bussgang, which offers a great insight into the VC world. It is essential to understand at least the VC world's basics when you begin working for a startup.
8. There's No Need for Fancy Work Attire.
Co-working spaces are full of young startups, and casual clothing is the norm. You can ditch the suit.
9. LinkedIn is Where it's at.
LinkedIn is a platform for Business Owners and Professionals and the majority of popular brands have LinkedIn Pages. In particular, LinkedIn is an excellent platform for you if your Startup Business provides services or products that target other businesses through B2B Model. This is because most of the audience on this platform care about business or their professional careers.
LinkedIn allows us to market our business without huge financial costs and gain access to otherwise hard-to-reach professionals (41% of CEO's have a LinkedIn account).
For content marketing, LinkedIn is great because, unlike other social networks, it allows you to target a conscious audience. LinkedIn is your best friend for startup marketing as it enables you to showcase engaging content and offer value on both a B2B and B2C level.
10. How to Get Over it
Ever heard of the startup "hustle"? In a startup, there's no room for hiding away (you gotta do what ya gotta do). Putting yourself out there is not an option, as marketing needs to be aggressive in order to attract the right attention to the brand. When I was asked to do a video interview, I felt like I would rather die than post a video of myself on LinkedIn. I was told to "get over it", and so... I just got over it.