Considering a job at a startup? New to startup life? Based off of my extensive eight months of experience, here are my tips:

1. Be Agile

Take your job description. Print it out. Burn it. Be ready to wear many hats. Depending on the direction your company takes you may need to take on different projects or tasks that you didn’t initially set out for. Be flexible, learn as you go and multi-task.

2. Be Decisive

Make decisions quickly. Be really confident in your choices, knowing that usually things can be iterated on and re-considered later. Act quickly and trust yourself. Second-guessing wastes time you don’t have.

3. Drink

Chill with other startup kids. Mingle. Go to events. Startup friends understand your work life in a way that others usually don’t. They’ll be able to offer really great feedback and advice, and some of the best networking opportunities come from just hanging out. True story: I met my friend who I hired as a freelance blogger when we were just hanging out drinking wine with other startup geeks once. Networking doesn’t just happen at conferences.

4. Drop the Perfectionism

You do not have time to nit-pick over minute details that don’t move the needle. Some jobs are extremely detail-oriented and are totally focused on shipping only the most perfect product or document possible. At a startup it’s less about being perfect and more about perfecting as you go along. “Ship it and change it based on customer feedback”  or “let’s test this and see if it gets traction” are more the themes at a startup.

5. Get Over the Rainbows and Butterflies

Your bad ideas that you love so much but just don’t work? Love ’em and leave ’em. You can’t get emotionally tied to and hung up on specific ideas or projects at a startup. Test your idea, measure the results and be ready to scrap the whole thing and move onto the next one if it wasn’t the right solution.

6. Play Ping Pong. Wear a Hoodie.

Be the type of person who gets bored with the mundane and thrives under pressure. Learn to be happy despite a strong level of uncertainty. Show up at work and get stressed. Then, when you need to relax a little, play ping pong or something. Startups are nuts and being able to keep an even keel – in whatever way you do that – is key.

7. Know Your Needs

Feeling sick? Need a day off? This one’s tough for me too. Part of what makes you a successful startup kid is knowing your needs and taking care of yourself. If you need more sleep, sleep. You need exercise and a diet that doesn’t only consist of PBJ & PBR. When you take care of yourself you help your team by making sure their engineer or product person or marketing person is ok. Know your needs and take care of them.

8. Choose Your Choices

Not everyone is going to “get” the startup thing. They don’t understand how your job isn’t just a job to you or why you’d want to work such crazy hours or do what you do. Get behind your own life choices and commit to your own decisions. Then, it really won’t matter to you who does or doesn’t understand or approve. They’re your choices and you want them, after all, so who cares.

9. Be Hungry

Be hungry to learn. Be hungry to figure it out. Be hungry to find someone who already knows how it’s done and then go ask them how it’s done. Identify your weaknesses and seek the knowledge or experience that fixes them. You’ll likely be “punching above your weight class” and will be challenged with a lot more responsibility than you initially thought. If you are absolutely die-hard hungry to learn all you can, succeed in your own role and make your contribution to the team a success, that’ll be ok.

10. ELAMF

Execute like a ___ ___. There is a unique level of productivity and motivation needed (demanded) from each member of a small team. It’s beyond the level of just getting to the bottom of a to-do list, it’s about asking “What’s next?” and being able to immediately act on that feedback. It’s about bringing new ideas to the table, asking questions, giving your input to every part of what’s going on. Showing up isn’t good enough, and participating isn’t intense enough either. This is about being really involved and applying your expertise to each aspect of your new business.

Startups are crazy, but somehow I love this. What other qualities or tips would you add to the list?

19 Comments on How to: Be a Startup Kid

  1. Kim!
    February 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm (6 years ago)

    11. Leave the boo-hoos at the door.

    Life at a start-up isn’t about being loved because your smile is super-cute, and it’s not about which My Little Ponies you’re fond of collecting. Your goal is to execute quickly, and on budget. Time = money. Prioritizing correctly = money. Everything goes (very quickly) back to the bottom line. Sometimes this results in feedback that is less than hugs and cupcakes, but getting into the mindset of your boss and his or her needs as a businessperson is crucial.

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 7, 2011 at 5:18 pm (6 years ago)

      Yes! No boo-hoos at door, completely agree 🙂

      Reply
  2. Elisabeth Michaud
    February 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm (6 years ago)

    You forgot “wear a backpack” after play ping-pong and wear a hoodie 😉

    Seriously, though, great post.

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm (6 years ago)

      Backpacks at Tweetups.

      Reply
  3. Ben Johnson - Seabourn Pearls
    February 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm (6 years ago)

    Great post. I might add: Wear a helmet. Remember the words of Warner Wolf: “I think fast. I talk fast. And if you have an ounce of self preservation you’ll act fast.” Quit sniveling about being asked nicely and your work/life balance. To hell with collaboration. Take some initiative. Fortune favors the bold.

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm (6 years ago)

      Love it! Your comment has me so pumped haha

      Reply
  4. Jason Evanish
    February 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm (6 years ago)

    Don’t forget to Chug the Kool Aid; you should be interested in the product you’re working on. If you’re doing it right, everything you do translates to users and what better way to understand the whole process than if you are a user!?

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm (6 years ago)

      But don’t get too drunk on your own Koolaid: still need to be able to relate to your customers and be receptive to feedback 😉

      Reply
      • Jason Evanish
        February 7, 2011 at 11:27 pm (6 years ago)

        Yeah…totally…you should be *A* customer for your product…but it’s a fallacy to think you’re THE customer and forget about your users out there.

        Reply
  5. PerkStreet Jen
    February 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm (6 years ago)

    Back it up back it up back it up back it up.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yykg81Mi26I

    Seriously, though, never be afraid to jump in and say what’s on your mind. Just be ready to back it up, whether it’s with hardcore numbers you’ve gleaned from years of market research or info you know anecdotally because you interact with the community every day. That was a huge change for me moving from nonprofit – where my experience showed me that people either loved your idea at the ready and heaped a ton of work on you to execute or they dismissed it quickly – to startup.

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm (6 years ago)

      Haha that video… but that’s a great point. If you’re presenting a new idea or something you have to back it up with numbers or saying that “hey I think we should make this feature on the website because we’ve talked to 10 customers who asked for this.”

      Reply
  6. Zach Cole
    February 9, 2011 at 6:53 am (6 years ago)

    #3 and #9 – All about the food (for thought) and drink. But seriously, I’ve met so may connections and smart people simply by being out and about. Matter of fact we met over drinks at Hard Rock Cafe! But also being hungry is an absolute must. There is one thing that successful people all have in common – and that is an insatiable desire to be the best. Great post, Janet!

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm (6 years ago)

      Haha we DID meet over drinks. I could totally see you at a startup (even though I know you love agencies :D) You should consider one sometime though!

      Reply
      • Zach Cole
        February 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm (6 years ago)

        I like agencies with that startup, entrepreneurial, go-getter mentality. Who says I can’t have the best of both worlds? 😛

        Reply
  7. Ryan Black
    May 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm (6 years ago)

    Great post! I’m a few months late but really good stuff. I’m currently at an agency, but am constantly considering/reconsidering working at a startup. I think I’ll be at one soon enough 🙂

    From my extensive startup experience (none), I’d say flexibility and being willing to ship imperfect projects and ideas are important. ELAMF is a nice touch as well! 

    Look forward to finding more posts!

    Reply
    • Janet Aronica
      May 23, 2011 at 12:45 am (6 years ago)

      My advice: Go to a startup job, NOW. Looked at your LinkedIn… I’m sure there are a lot of startups that would love to have a metrics-driven marketing person like you. Data is very important to startups because we need to move quickly and make decisions based on facts, not opinions… so people with measurement experience are valuable. 

      Joining this company changed my life, launched my career and introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had.Read this post: http://bostinnovation.com/2011/04/11/10-killer-reasons-to-join-a-startup-and-debunking-3-myths-on-why-you-shouldn%E2%80%99t/

      Don’t push it off. Someday isn’t a day of the week 🙂 

      Reply
      • Ryan Black
        May 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm (6 years ago)

        Thanks for the advice, much appreciated! And thanks for pointing me to the post. Some of his other posts really resonated with me as well, particularly about evaluating startup opportunities. 

        Thanks again!

        Reply
      • Ryan Black
        May 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm (6 years ago)

        Thanks for the advice, much appreciated! And thanks for pointing me to the post. Some of his other posts really resonated with me as well, particularly about evaluating startup opportunities. 

        Thanks again!

        Reply
  8. Péter Kádas
    August 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm (6 years ago)

    Just as if I said. Perfect collection, Janet. An 11th paragraph would be: Despite every advice of smart and famous and rich people you really look up to, do not ever believe that you’re not the one who was born here to change the world with what you’re currently doing. Being an entrepreneur means you choose to build something from nothing. Creation – it’s all about that. : )

    Reply

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