5 Tips to Help You be Successful at a Startup

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This is a re:purpose guest post written by Lucia Giacomantonio, a marketing professional and consultant who lives in Silicon Valley.

Born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit (Macomb Twp. to be exact), Lucia moved to Silicon Valley 11 years ago for work. Soon after the move she met her future husband and business partner (Ron), got a taste of startup life, and never came back. Over the years she has developed a passion for helping early-stage technology startups scale and grow and has worked with a number of companies including eBay, SuccessFactors, Strands, and Edmodo—a social learning platform she helped take from 1.5 million users to over 40 million users worldwide.

In addition to working with startups, she enjoys being a mom, baking in the kitchen, spending time outdoors with her family, and frequent trips back to Michigan to visit family and friends.

So you want to join a startup? While visions of ping-pong tables, nerf gun fights, and nap pods might fill your head, know that making the transition (especially for first-timers) can be a challenge. However, it can also be a great move for your career. Startups exist because they want to change the status quo of a specific industry or way of doing things, and there’s nothing more rewarding than joining a company that’s on a mission to create change in the world. Whether it’s software that makes you more productive, a service that makes your life easier, or new hardware that solves your daily challenges, you have the opportunity to contribute to something big that’s never done before.   

There’s no doubt that being part of a startup is hard work, but these tips will help you be more successful.

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1. Be flexible

Startups run lean. This means, there’s usually more work to be down than there are people to fill the roles. Regardless of what your job title is, be prepared to wear multiple hats if you join a startup. Unlike larger companies, you won’t have people to fill in each specialized area.

At one startup I worked at, I managed all the help center documentation and support webinars (I’m a marketer, not a customer support specialist) until the team grew large enough to hire on a support team. It wasn’t something I’ve done before, but I took on the challenge. Joining a startup means you may have to manage a broad range of activities. You may not have any experience in those areas, but embrace the challenge and think of it as a learning opportunity. A positive attitude is key.

Along the same lines, startups move fast so you have to be comfortable working on tight deadlines and shifting priorities at any given notice. The job you’re doing now might not be the job you’re doing in six months. Roll your sleeves up and contribute to navigating a turbulent time. Your CEO might take notice and reward you in the future.

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2. Keep your energy up but don’t get burned out. 

Startup life can be hectic and there’s always more work to be done than you can handle in a day. And while you want to make a good impression, the answer isn’t always to work more hours; you’ll just end up burning yourself out. What you need to do is prioritize your workload and be as efficient as possible.

For managing priorities, I’ve found that using a tracking tool works best for me. Trello is my tool of choice, but Asana, Jira (for engineers), or a good old fashion spreadsheet are also great. Your manager is always going to push you to get more done, so have your priorities laid out, share them with him/her, and review them regularly to ensure you’re both on the same page. You may also want to use a PPP weekly status report to show your progress each week. In terms of efficiency, set deadlines for everything you do (even if there is not a hard deadline) and shoot to get them done by those dates. 

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3. Always be learning

Unlike larger companies that are in established industries with proven playbooks, startups are often carving their own path. This means you have the opportunity to help shape it, so don’t be afraid to take the lead, try new things, and continuously learn.

As a marketer, this especially rings true for me. I don’t have to follow a standard procedure for how things are done, I get the opportunity to experiment with new ideas that will help companies scale and grow. I’m always reading about what other companies are doing and what new cool new marketing tools are out there. Continuous learning is part of my job, and it’s part of the allure of working for a startup. No matter what your job function is, take the initiative to stay up to date on your industry’s trends and new learnings.

4. Be professional, while creating great relationships

Just because there may not be a formal HR department, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act professionally. No matter how lax your startup is, always be professional and respectful to colleagues. This is especially important to remember during outside of work events such as happy hours, conferences, or team building events.

At a former company I worked at, we use to have company-sponsored happy hours on a regular basis. It was a lot of fun until someone spoiled it by having a little too much to drink. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with co-workers. A big part of the draw of a startup is bringing together young, passionate, and driven people at similar stages in their career. It’s extremely important to build rapport with your team and create strong relationships to help enable collaboration and maintain a great work culture. Just do so without being a creep.

5. Set boundaries

As a mom, it’s important for me to create a good work-life balance. In my 10+ years working for startups, I’ve learned that it’s important to set boundaries from the get-go with your colleagues about the hours you’re available to work and be in the office. For me personally, that means leaving the office by 4:15 pm every day and eating lunch at my desk every day to ensure I can get all my work done before the end of my day. The majority of my colleagues are much younger and don’t have kids, but they understand my reasons and respect these established boundaries. This being said, I realize that my limited hours get filled up with meeting, and as a result, sometimes I need to put in some time in the evening after my son goes to bed to get actual work done. I’m ok with that. The important thing to me is that I have evening time with my family.

While working at a startup may seem challenging, it’s also extremely fun and exciting. Cozy work spaces, flexible hours, collaborative teams, and the opportunity to lead and have a voice in your work are just a few of the things I love about working for a startup. Most of all though, I love the thrill of helping to build a new company—from gaining your first 100k customers to exceeding revenue goals and new product launches, every milestone brings new excitement to your work.

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Get Connected to Michigan-based Startups

If you’re thinking about joining a startup in the Detroit, Ann Arbor, or Grand Rapids areas, let re:purpose help! Re:purpose connects job seekers with startups that are hiring based on culture, fit, and experience. Complete an application today, it’s free and it will open the door to dozens of startups that are hiring in these areas.

By: Lucia Giacomantonio of re:purpose

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