March 4, 2012

5 Things You Need to Forget When You Join a Startup

A couple of months ago Mark Stephens wrote a guest post on
OnStartups about the benefits of gaining experience at a large company.
 Having worked at a large company, and having recently left said
company for the startup world, I have to agree with much of what Mark
says, but I think we need to flip the coin as it were.

It’s true that there are some benefits to pull from working at a
large company, but there are also some seriously bad habits that can
really impede your progress and your impact at a startup.  Here are five
mantras you need to forget if you’re leaving a big corporate job for
the startup world:

1.  That you need to ask for permission first.

At the very first training session at HubSpot, we were told in no
uncertain terms, “Beg for forgiveness rather than permission.” If
you’ve been hired at a (good) startup, there’s a reason. The powers
that be have deemed you competent and they trust you to do the right
thing. Sure there will be mistakes, but mistakes pave the way for
innovation, and startups are dead in the water without it.

2.  That you need to put in your time before you can make an impact.

In the startup space, you need to make an impact NOW. If you’re not
making an impact, your job could and should be replaced by someone
overseas that will work for a fraction of what you will. You were
brought on to push the capabilities of the company, not (just) to pump
out code.

3.  That you’re here to work, keep your personal life at home.

This was particularly jarring for me, as I’m a staunch introvert, but
in a startup, everyone knows everyone’s business. This isn’t because
startup folk are nosy, it’s because you interact differently with
friends than you do with coworkers. And startups need employees to be
friends. You trust friends. You do favors for friends. You push
friends. You can make mistakes around friends. All of these traits
help you do more faster.

Being friends requires social interaction, a give and take, and
likely a few yo-mama jokes. Don’t fight that. Embrace it. When the
company grows you’ll miss it. So rather than spending lunch pumping out
a few extra lines of code, go eat with your new friends.

4.  That you love/hate process.

Regardless of whether you love or hate the processes at your big
company you need to rethink your position. If you love the process at a
big company then you’re going to hate the freeform day-to-day workings
of a startup. If you hate the process with a passion, and you’re hoping
life at a startup will be a do-whatever-you-want free-for-all then
you;ve got another thing coming. Startups often shun process to
innovate, but as they grow process is necessary in order to scale.

It’s your job to delineate between the processes that can reduce
time-to-market and the processes that stifle innovation and kill
employees’ sense of autonomy.

5.  The phrase, “That’s not my job.”

When a problem comes up at a big company, it’s often easy to say “Well,
that’s not my job, it’s someone else’s job to handle that.” In fact,
all of the extraneous process at big companies is designed specifically
to make sure that problems are caught and directed to the responsible
parties. Whether or not it actually accomplishes that end is a debate
for another day, but at a startup, that process infrastructure likely
won’t exist. You are the process. When you find a
problem, your job description instantly changes from developer or CEO to
“cleaner”. Like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” it’s your job to get
rid of those technical dead-bodies before your customers find them.

I’ve had to relearn all of these in my transition at HubSpot but
they’ve been extremely valuable lessons. If you have any other tips
leave them in the comments!

Bryan Marble is the Founder of GroupTrip.  You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog called LostMahbles.  You can also follow Bryan on Twittter (@LostMahbles) by clicking here.