Life at a start-up, one year in

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already passed the one year mark at Rixty. Holy schnikes! Has it really been over a year? Time sure flies by quickly when you are working your butt off. It’s been a crazy ride so far and I’ve learned a ton.

This is now my fourth, but first full-time, start-up experience. I had a typical pre-MBA path: consulting and finance. I could’ve gone back to that life, but I’m happy I didn’t even though I’m not rolling in Benjamins like my friends in consulting or banking.

Start-up life is not glamorous

An early-stage startup is of course not as established as a Fortune 500 company. For small companies, there’s no formal HR department (which means I can get away with more random BS) or an IT Help Desk (which means you can’t blame anyone when your laptop crashes). When something breaks, you have to roll up your sleeves and fix it. An MBA does not get a special treatment. Titles are meaningless. Everyone is equal. Leave your egos and personal agendas at the door. We all work extremely hard to make things happen and keep our partners and customers smiling from ear to ear.

It always takes longer so expect the unexpected

Building a new product or adding a new feature to an existing product always takes longer than expected. Sure, large companies miss deadlines too, but the impact of a delay is much bigger for a smaller start-up. Whether it’s because you found a bug or you had some external factors that you couldn’t control, delays really suck big fat you-know-what. It doesn’t happen often, but when we are delayed, I’ve learned to not freak out like my head is on fire, but stay calm and work with what I’ve got to close a deal instead of complaining about what I don’t have.

You grow professionally and personally at start-up

I used to believe that strategy consultants and investment bankers, because of the breadth of their work and the long hours they spend working, learned at least twice as much as employees at other companies. That could be true, but I now believe that you have more unique opportunities to acquire new skills and grow as a person at a start-up. When you are building the bridge you are walking on and are wearing multiple hats in a single day there’s no shortage of opportunities to grow. I could be in a new role with new products in new market all in a single day. If you don’t like uncertainties, life at an early-stage start-up is probably not for you. If you want to be challenge until you don’t want to be challenged anymore, then a start-up is the perfect place for you. We only take ambitious, hungry people who want to rock like a rock star on steroids.

Don’t take rejections personally

There are days when building something totally new could be a grind. You love what you have helped build, but what if it’s not getting the love you feel it deserves? When that large deal that would have helped the company tremendously doesn’t go through, it could feel worse than kicked between your legs (well, maybe not literally). However, you can’t take rejections personally. Large companies get rejected all the time, although the pain is probably not as great when you have hundreds of million of dollars in the bank and have a thousand other products you can ship to your other partners. Either they are not smart enough to see the value-add of your product or you need to refine your pitch. Or perhaps you need to change your product. Iterate, iterate, iterate, and go do it some more until it’s perfect. Change it up so that it becomes relevant to the party with which you are trying to build a long-lasting partnership. But never take rejections personally. If you are a start-up, most likely, you are building something so new that it’s difficult for some people to immediately understand the value you bring. That’s okay, just keep trying.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish– But be Patient and Smart.

Your company is probably not going to IPO for $10 billion in 10 months. It’s unlikely to get acquired either. Build, scale, sell. Repeat. Do it over and over until that day comes. Stay hungry and foolish, but don’t be delusional. Start-up life is like running a marathon; it’s not a sprint. Success isn’t built over night. At the same time, you have to know when to quit. Don’t listen to the naysayers, but don’t ignore them either. In poker you have to know when to bluff to represent a hand you don’t have, but you also need to know when to fold to minimize your losses. Be hungry, but also be patient and smart. Wait for the right cards, the right moment to go all-in.

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5


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