You Want To Work For A Startup? Check Your Sanity At The Door

Author: BJ Patel, Senior Director, Service Delivery, ATADATA

I don’t really consider myself a veteran of anything.

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t just imply being a “seasoned professional” but somehow includes being worn out and hardened… and, that isn’t me; at least, not yet. However, I’ve worked in technology a while--about 15 years--but more importantly is where I’ve worked and what I’ve done in that span. And I’m not talking about accolades or recognitions but, the roles I’ve had over the years.

I am the kind of person who likes to be a Renaissance man, but more specifically, a jack of all trades, master of none. There’s something to be said for someone like that (when you find out what that is, please let me know.) I’m not sure what that is exactly but, for me, it’s a moniker I enjoy wearing and wear well.

I know I’m not alone either. Many people like this not only enjoy having multiple roles in their job but also thrive in that type environment. So, back to what I started talking about, as far as being a veteran of something, it’s more about where I’ve worked. And, I’ve gained some great experience in working for startups.

I’ve worked for newly created startups, growth startups that have been acquired, and large enterprise organizations. While they all hold their advantages and disadvantages,

“I’ve always loved the idea of being with a startup. Not because it was cool and trendy but because of the fact that every contribution you make in your role can be instantly seen throughout the company.”

And those contributions can be in many different domains you didn’t know you had any skill-sets for: development, marketing, finance, sales. You find yourself wearing so many different hats that you begin to realize your title is only that: a title. In a startup, your title will never fully describe what you really do on a day to day basis.

Now, here comes my gripe or let’s say confusion. I started doing this ‘startup thing’ during the days. And while back then in the 1990’s the term was relatively new, the culture has remained pretty much the same (except, now, investors are no longer blindly throwing their money at any half-assed idea anymore…..well, maybe they are, but that’s a different blog post.) So what am I puzzled about?

Well, to start a bit off topic, when you become an adult or let’s just say post-college (when do we ever really become adults?), a common question you’re asked when meeting someone new is, “So, what do you do?” Now, early in my career I learned from watching others that the person wanted to know what your profession was and didn’t really care about what you did in your spare time. I remember thinking to myself,“Why would anyone care about what I do? I’m an entry level engineer that works for a little company no one probably has ever heard of.”

Back then I never said I worked for a startup. I would just say I work for a small technology company. Through the years, the attraction of startups has gained popularity. However, I think it’s misguided. When I tell someone now that I work for a startup, their eyes light up as if I have some sort of glamorous job. Wait. What? Startups are cool?

Newsflash – startups are not glamorous! They are hard work!

We are not rock stars here – think of us as the roadies; willing to get our hands dirty at any point in the process in order to get shit done and deliver. A startup employee is not your average employee – they’re actually far above average, and borderline insane. You have to literally have some crazy inside of you to work at a startup. There’s no security, there’s no day off, there’s no ‘no’ in your vocabulary, there’s just pure guts, brains, and crazy here. We don’t stay up at night watching Shark Tank and discuss the episode around the water cooler the next morning.

“You have to be willing to achieve the impossible, to prove your naysayers wrong, to prove your customers wrong, to keep at it until you get it right. Plain and simple, there’s no giving up… unless the money runs out. Then it’s time to go back to the crazy forum, regroup, and build the next company.”

So let’s talk! I do want to know what you do. But by asking “what do you do?” What I really mean is, 1) What’s your favorite beer? 2) How crazy are you? And, 3) Do you want to acquire my company?