“The best start-ups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults.” – Peter Thiel
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States join small, unvetted mysterious organizations that require extreme lifestyles and promise untold riches.
Are there new cults sweeping the nation? Are people joining boy bands? Nope. They’re joining high-growth startups.
When you really think about it, the leap into the startup of today is sort of like joining a special little society within (and often sharply contrasted to) the larger world of human social interactions.
And like all cults, er. . . smaller social organizations . . .startups too have their own rites of initiation and passage. These are experiences which all startup team members worth their salt must face to reach full startup maturity.
In the spirit of preparing those about to begin their startup adventures, here are a few of those key experiences you might accumulate:
1) Swim in the deep end– Sorry, there’s no time for fancy onboarding. You’re probably going to be thrown into the deep end. This is the time to put on your startup archaeologist hat and enjoy the quest of figuring out what you need to know about your company. If you can navigate the choppy waters of the start, you’ll be ready for what comes next.
2) Achieve product liftoff – Product launch day is one of the most exciting times at any company. In a startup, your role in making launch a success will probably be much greater. You’ll be up for nights on end before the launch trying to finish. You’ll be nervously checking and re-checking and coordinating a hundred things at once. You’ll be feeling the adrenaline exhilaration of anticipation.
3) Wear all the hats – If you’re paying attention and working hard, you might engage in the work of an office manager, a recruiter, a customer support agent, a marketer, a salesperson, and an accountant in a single week at a startup. The smaller the company, the more likely you’ll be swapping hats. They should give you a free coffee or something once you reach 10 hats.
4) Face the users – Maybe in your previous corporate job you could get away with not talking to users. To become a fully realized startup employee, take time to engage with users. For many startup people, that means wearing the customer support hat for a bit. But it might also mean engaging with your users online or at meetups and taking feedback directly.
5) Break the “rules” – You’ll always remember the first time you wear flip-flops to work. Breaking the arbitrary rules of office life is one of the joys of startup work.
6) Break something big – In your position at a startup you’ll probably by default have more access and responsibility for things – which just means you’re all the more likely to screw something big up. If you accidentally take the company website offline for 24 hours, it’s just par for the course.
7) Survive the spending spree – Venture-backed startups tend to spend with the aim of growing quickly, but they can also tend to just spend a lot of money. If you stick around long enough, you can expect to see a lot of ping-pong tables, Red Bull machines, and other luxuries. Enjoy them, but don’t get distracted – and always be prepared for them to go away.
8) Survive the layoffs – You may come to a time (see #7) when burn rate exceeds revenue for long enough that your company gets dangerously low on cash. At that time you’re going to have to survive one of the saddest parts of startup (or any company) life: the layoffs. Losing team members in a startup environment is especially hard (these are your comrades and often friends), and moving on from losing key team members calls for a lot of tenacity from team members left behind. Done right, though, the post-layoff lean months and years can be powerfully formative for you and your company.
9) Survive the near misses – You will face terrible PR days, terrible security days, terrible customer losses, and everything in between on your way to the top of the startup world. Your company will seem to have dozens of near death experiences over the years. Surviving them is just a part of the path.
10) Sleep in the office – If you’ve never slept in the office, or in your car – or if you’ve never pulled an all-nighter at least once – you haven’t truly lived. Sleep is important, but so is passion. And the times when you give your all to finish something or support your teammates are often the most fun times you’ll have at your company.