‘So you want to work for a startup. Do you have what it takes?’
This question is one that I’ve had to personally deal with. There’s an unsaid ‘coolness’ factor of working for startups, where technology, fun, and revenue tend to form the same sentence. Is this always the right combination? I don’t know. What I do know is that there is a need for every start up to scale. In order to scale, there needs to be a change in mindset, and the right team. I am currently a project management consultant within the startup environment moving from 5 years in a structured corporate environment. Prior to the ‘corporate shindig’, I was in a startup environment for about 3 years. From recollection of my earlier start-up days, things were barely the same and changed every single moment depending on what the focus (or fire) was at the time. This meant that growth was not really a priority, rather, fire fighting was. My move to corporate sprung from the frustration of what I perceived to be stagnation. I wanted to learn from this environment and understand everything that would be relevant to growing a start up. There’s a few lessons that I’ve learnt over the span of my corporate career that may be of benefit within the start-up ecosystem. These three are certainly qualities that I would look for in getting the right team together within a start-up geared towards scaling.
- Be agile: With a large corporate there’s lots of moving bits and pieces. Bosses change; your team changes; there’s always an on-boarding and an exit. It is necessary to adjust to the changing tides without losing a step. People rarely stick in the same space, they keep moving. Often, employees take these changes personally and let it affect their work; it’s not personal, it’s just business. In addition, the technology scene is ever changing. There’s new ways of doing things, new apps , new phones, new standards. It’s really important to be in touch with everything that’s going on and to adapt to changes as soon as they appear. Even better, set the trend. This is an unnatural inclination, with most people being initially resistant to change. However, it is that agility that keeps a person relevant. Maintaining relevance is key in scaling a start-up. A lot of small start ups get hard hit when a team member leaves the ‘family’. You must learn how to manage transitions within the system.
- Be real: It’s very easy to get lost in the ‘corporate’ jungle. Like the wild , there are moments where it’s dark and there’s a heavy canopy marring visibility, and there’s moments where there is a clearing and the sun clings to you like love. There’s good days and there’s bad days but what’s important is staying true to oneself. Being consistent in who you are and how you relate with others is key to growth and success. If you’re known for delivering on time, stick to that. If you’re known for being an early riser, don’t be late. If you’re known for having a solid personal value system, let your actions demonstrate that. Do not act like a chameleon. This breeds a certain level of predictability that is extremely valuable to you and in keeping you in a work environment. Moreover, fully understand your ‘non-negotiables’. These are your ‘deal-breakers’ in the work environment. They are important and useful in ensuring that you get what you require from a working relationship. Do not compromise your core values for anyone, they will guide you through the toughest of days. With a start up environment this is important. Leveraging on each other’s strengths is important in growing the company.
- Be smart: Read, Read, Read. You can never read too much. Really, your brain is a super data center, it will not run out of memory. Make sure that you make time to up-skill yourself. It could be through a class, a conference, or through trying something new or through volunteering to do something that’s out of scope for you. You must take the initiative to learn. Are you allergic to reading books? Find a podcast; get an audio book; watch a TED talk; read that short blog post in the morning. There is absolutely no reason for you not to take that time to invest in yourself. Don’t have time? Make time. Read in traffic; read before you sleep; read when you wake up. Just get it done. A little goes a long way. This is not something that you can do without. In a small team setting, growing ahead of the curve is invaluable and may just be the tipping point that allows the company to grow past break-even.
Node Africa prides itself in being a fun and open environment that encourages people to innovate. We provide a safe environment for our employees to fail. Being agile, real and smart are some of the key actions that differentiate a start up from a rapidly growing company, like facebook .