Spring is here, the sun is actually out (and for us Seattleites that’s a REALLY big deal). Once I was able to find my sunglasses (I actually managed to hang onto last year’s pair), I found my mood was soaring and I was so excited to go to work. After basking in this feeling for a few minutes, I realized that even on the rainy dreary days that all Seattleites have come to know and tolerate, I’m still excited to go to work. For SO MANY REASONS I’m excited to go to work. And all of them fall under one umbrella; the wonderful umbrella of startups. Yes, that’s right. Hello, my name is Courtney, and I’m a startup-aholic. But why am I so passionate about them? Why do other startup junkies around the country work 70 hour work weeks, at a pay scale well below what they could earn elsewhere? What is it about this world that is so addicting? Keep in mind that I’m not a founder, but merely a worker bee (and happy to be in this spot, but that’s a whole other blog post). And even though the startup isn’t MY baby, I still love it. For me, there are a few reasons why I love this space.
The Thrill of the Game
Anyone who has worked in a startup can tell you they’re exciting. Sometimes the excitement comes from finally writing a piece of code that works the way you want (and need) it to. Other times is comes from being able to release a new feature that your users and your team are excited about. And there are times when the excitement comes from a simple shout-out from one of your mentors about what an awesome job you and your team are doing. Every day has the potential to be new and exciting and thrilling, every project has the potential to change the world of [insert your target market here], and every startup has the potential of becoming a huge success…or a massive failure. That last part may be the most intoxicating. All startups are a gamble; whether intentionally, unwittingly, or simply out of choice, every day startups are putting themselves out there without knowing if they’ll be around in a year, and putting their all into it each and every day. I love that.
I Matter to My Startup
Yes, I could probably land a job at Microsoft or Amazon and have more stability, a larger paycheck and better benefits. But that’s not what it’s about to me; its about knowing that I matter, that having me on the team makes a difference, and is part of what makes this startup as awesome as it is. That doesn’t mean that every day I’m contributing amazingly incredible content and ideas; far from it. Part of working in a startup is that you have to wear so many different hats. Some days are consumed with grunt work, or production support, or catching up on emails, or customer issues, or debugging, or simply sitting down and organizing the files on my desktop or in my inbox. And every single one of these tasks matters, every single task is what keeps the wheels of this company turning. They’re all part of the bigger picture, the ‘higher calling’ of what we’re all about. The fact that we all know this and all participate in doing ALL THE THINGS keeps our company alive and will ultimately help it become a success. And then there are all the other days when I DO get to contribute something insightful and progressive, and do something to help our company grow and improve and expand. And I get to know that the growth and success we all experience is because I answered those emails and debugged that code and sent something amazing into production. I did that. I contributed. I matter.
Shared Values and Priorities
Most everyone knows that the culture of a startup is vastly different from the culture of most other industries. The thing that not everybody knows is that the culture of each startup is vastly different from the culture of most other startups. Jennifer Aldrich wrote a great article on her blog on whether working in a startup is for you, and in it she said something that made an impression on me. She said “I don’t live working for startups, I love working for startups that fit my personality, and my lifestyle.” And this is, absolutely, wholeheartedly true. I am currently working with my third startup, and can confidently say that not all of them worked for me. Startup #1 and #3 share similar values, ideals, and personalities. Startup #2 was completely different, and it worked really well…just not for me. They had a great product and passionate people, but the vibe and culture of the office just didn’t fit well with my personality. I love the energy that I feel when I come to work these days. I enjoy the flexibility and casualness that comes with startups. I love showing up at work in flip-flops and a hoodie one day, a cute dress the next day, and in my motorcycle gear on the third day and never have anyone bat an eye. I love working with people who look beyond egos and titles and education, and instead value their team members for their passion and drive. Startups are a place with minimal ego and an overabundance of passion and dedication, and these are qualities that are important to me as an individual. I can’t stand egos and arrogance, and I want to surround myself with passionate energy and people who have a desire to do something bigger and greater, not BE something bigger and greater. Another aspect of startups that I can’t live without…startups dream. Every day they’re dreaming of what they can do to change the world, and I love that. If I don’t get a chance to dream for a few minutes each day (and not just about the beach I’d love to be relaxing on), I’ll start to wither. Working for a startup gives me that outlet, and I can’t every see myself working somewhere where I don’t get to dream, and where I’m not surrounded by people who feel the same passion as I do about what we’re creating.
Johnson Cook, Partner at Atlanta Ventures, did a great job summarizing the love I have for the ever-changing landscape of startups. He wrote “The point is that startups exist to make change. They change routines, ideas, systems, established products and processes…startups = change!” Couldn’t have said it better myself. This ever-changing landscape constantly challenges, invigorates, inspires and motivates me. I don’t understand how some people can go to work and do the same exact thing, day in and day out, year after year. There are plenty of people in the world who thrive on that consistency and predictability, and thank goodness they exist because there are plenty of companies and positions that require a love of this routine. I, however, am far from being one of those people. If I could do 30 different tasks in a week, and only repeat 10 of those the following week…well that just sounds awesome to me. I love to multitask, and love being pulled in 20 different directions, and I love being able to work on many different aspects of the same project (or different projects!) simultaneously. Startups give me that variety and ever-changing environment, and is yet another reason that I’ll probably be a startup junkie for life. Because in the world of startups as soon as you get comfortable, as soon as things start to get stable and routine, something WILL change. To survive in this world, you need to be–no, you GET to be flexible and responsive when the world throws things your way.
I Get To Choose My Path
Startups aren’t for everyone; some people flourish in corporate America; other’s can’t survive on the unpredictability of the future or lack of long-term stability. Others have just found their passion in other industries. As you’ve learned by now, I am not one of these people. The last big reason that I’ll probably never leave the world of startups is that they are so small, so erratic, that it gives me a reason to constantly reevaluate and redefine my role and my direction (not to mention the direction and identity of the company). And as I’m constantly redefining my place with the company, I’m also reevaluating and redefining who I am–what I know, what I’m good at, what I’m interested in. It’s always shifting and growing and improving, and so am I. Derek Shanahan, the Co-Founder and CCO of Brandtree, shared this thought: “Startups aren’t for everyone, and the only way to know if they’re for you is to go work at one. In return you won’t get stability per se, but you will get a crash course in making the world your oyster and the experience of working on a team that has a deeply ingrained mission. With an equity stake, you’ll see a new side of motivation unrelated to the stable paycheck. Do it while you can!” I want to make the world my oyster, and then have the opportunity to take that oyster and make whatever the hell I want to out of it. Sure, I’ll end up working long hours and more than one weekend. Yes, there have been times when I’ve had to pull out my laptop and do some work at a family holiday. And I’ve yet to have a vacation where I’ve left my laptop at home. But that’s okay with me, because I’m still experiencing a sense of freedom and flexibility that I would never have in a corporate job. And the ability to constantly grow and become better while enjoying flexibility and freedom…well, that’s not an experience most people get from their work.
At the end of the day, I know I’m in this industry to stay. I know this probably won’t be the last startup I work for…at least I sincerely hope it won’t be. Because staying with this one company for the next 30 years in a way contradicts everything that I LOVE about startups; the thrill, the ever-changing landscape, and the opportunity to constantly grow and change and improve…these are things I never want to lose. And I know that I don’t have to; I just have to pour my heart into this startup and, when the day comes that neither I nor the company are improving because of each other any more, find a new home to grow and thrive in. And the cycle of my addiction continues…
Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.