Why & What of The Startup World

Internet is full of advice for entrepreneurs. There is advice on how to be an entrepreneur, how to start a startup, how to write a business plan, how to raise funds, how to hire, how to reach potential customers, how not to spend money and the list is endless. However there are very few resources to help those who wish to work in startups. Why should any one work for a startup and what would be expected of them.

Everyone who wishes to work in a startup should understand what startups truly are and what would be expected of them. So here it is

Know the Startup

It is very crucial to know and understand the startup you wish to work for. Why was the company founded, what are its objectives, what are its guiding principles and values, and most importantly what is the vision of the founders. Where do the founders want to take the company eventually. Gathering this information is far more important than knowing number of employees or financials or amount of funding a startup has received.

Once you have sufficient information about the startup. Next question is why should I be working for this startup.

Why do you want to work with a startup?

This is the most important question you should be asking yourself. Asking yourself "Why" is very crucial. Once you understand your "whys", you should then assess if your "whys" are worth pursuing.

It is very important to understand that your "whys" have a profound effect on your behaviour and attitude. Your "whys" significantly impact factors that determine how successful will you be in any organisation. If you are joining a startup to learn and gain experience, then you will behave and take decisions based on this expectation of yours. You will behave as an employee who is taking a brief pitstop and has desire to learn and move on. If your reason to join a startup was accepting a good pay package, then you get just that. You should never join a startup for reasons like pay packages, learning, promotions or equity.

When you are taking a crucial decision of joining a startup (which would have high probability of failure just like many other start ups), then its important to have "whys" that are not related to money or any short term goals. Your "whys" should either be aligned to reasons why the startup came into existence or should be based on your big and ambitious life goals or the best - your values. If your reasons to join a startup are qualitative, superior and long term in nature then you are going to be different. You will behave in ways that others with short term or short sighted goals would not. For example, if you are joining a startup because you love the vision and want to be a part of it, then you will act in ways that will make you truly valuable to the company. Your decision making in the company on key aspects will be more aligned with that of founders. Moreover founders would naturally and subconciously like working with you as your vision aligns with theirs. As a result, you will not just get great amount of learning, good pay, bonuses, promotions or pay hikes, you will get a great opportunity to grow and achieve the vision for which you are joining the startup. Likewise, one might join a startup with long term goal like becoming a CTO or a CFO or even CEO. Just as in earlier example, you will not just receive all the benefits that people with short term goals do, you will earn a lot more.

Founders, managers or any decision makers naturally like to work with individuals who have superior "whys" as they tend to take the right decisions, voice their concerns when something is not right and most importantly show high levels of ownership and commitment. This process happens naturally without most of us realising it.

If you are joining a startup as a core team member and would be directly working with the founders, then make sure you have the right "whys". In general, your rewards are directly proportional to "scope of your why".

If you find that your "whys" are short term or materialistic in nature due to any personal plans like higher studies, plans for marriage, kids, financial commitments or any other reason, then it is very important to communicate these plans with honesty. This will ensure that the expectations on both the sides are set and founders are able to appreciate your views better once you have joined them. No one is hiring you for life. Everyone acknowledges that you have your own career plans and goals. There would not be a negative impact of being honest on this front. Infact this will enhance trust even before you have joined.

"whys" can also change over time. "whys" evolve as the individual evolves or as earlier needs are fulfilled. It is important to constantly evaluate your "whys" as they evolve and ensure your "whys" are always superior.

Once you have gathered all the information about a startup, have clarity about your "whys" and are planning to join, you should ask yourself whether you have all it takes to be extremely successful in a startup.

What should you have to be successful at any startup?

Startups are difficult beasts. It takes enormous amount of hard work to start and run a company successfully. Most important part of any startup is its people (read team). Attitude and skills of people in the startup determine whether a startup would fail or succeed.

As you are contemplating to join a startup it is important to realise how important you will be to it, what will be the expectation of its founders from you and what do you need to be extremely successful.

Following is a list of traits you must possess and aspects you must understant to be successful in any startup

Life and career are not straight upward pointing lines. You will not always grow. Sometimes you will hit rough patches. Startups are no different. Most of the successful companies like Apple, Tesla or Alibaba did not grow flat-out. They went through their own growth cycles and hit their own rough patches.

Most of the startups will hit a rough patch. They could face financial difficulties or some might launch products which users will not like/use. Navigating a startup through all the difficulties and all the uncertainties is extreme hard work. It takes a huge toll on those involved in it. If individuals in a team are not passionate about what they are doing, they will not be able to go through difficult situations and will eventually give up.

Most of the successful companies we see today are successful because the teams that built the company were passionate about what they were doing and their passion helped them persevere.

Teams that are passionate about what they are doing generally do an exceptional job when compared to teams that do it just because it is required of them.

Join a startup only if you are passionate about what the startup is all about.

World is home to 7 billion people and millions of startups. There are no unique ideas and one cannot patent ideas. Any product that a startup may be developing, there would be numerous other startups who would be doing the same. If we as individuals want to be successful we cannot afford to be ordinary in this highly competitive world. No matter what your role is, you have to put all efforts to be an insanely great individual.

Ensure founders and team are extraordinarily talented and are insanely great before you join. If you are insanely great and are part of a startup with mediocre teams or founders, then you should not invest your time and effort in it.

You should be insanely great if you want to be successful. If you remain ordinary, remember there are a billion others who are very willing to take your place and do a better job.

Humans are gifted with intellect like no other living beings on earth. Our intellect evolves over time. We start gathering and processing information from the day we are born.

Generally, our ability to comprehend and imagine is limited by our current intellect.

However entrepreneurs are gifted individuals who can see opportunities where others cannot. They can imagine the world in ways that most cannot. If you wish to be part of startup that is developing products or services that will bring a paradigm shift like all electric vehicles or rockets that can take humans to mars, it is important not be practical but be a visionary and make things happen. It is important to not limit ourselves with the knowledge we currently have. Things appear possible as our intellect grows. You should not be waiting for a day when someone proves to you it was practical.

If you are working with visionary entrepreneurs, be a visionary yourself and make things happen.

This is a very important trait to have if you are going to be a part of a startup.

Any bold idea is not just "one problem to solve". To solve one problem large problem, one generally has to solve hundreds or even thousands of problems. For example, building an all electric vehicle may sound like one problem to solve. However building an all electric vehicle requires solving thousands of problems like efficient batteries, efficient motors, weight of vehicle, safety of batteries and numerous others.

Every entrepreneur with a bold vision wants to work with a team that is capable of solving thousands of problems that will come along the way to achieve the vision. You have to be a problem solver that will pick all the problems that come your way and solve them one after the other.

Do not expect anyone in your team to solve problems you face and deliver a solution to you in a platter. Any average Joe can do a good job if solutions to all problems were delivered to them.

If you are getting an opportunity to work with extraordinary founders and a great team, it is important not to be a little person.

Entrepreneurs or great teams hate working with individuals who are either negative or think smaller than they do. They find it naturally energising to work with those who think big and broaden their vision.

As an individual you should always have very high goals. If you aim to go to mars, you will at least reach moon. If you aim to go to moon, you will at least touch clouds. If you aim to touch clouds, you would just jump and fall back to same place, but would never reach either moon or mars. Set big goals for yourself and your organisation. Be very hungry. Be extremely ambitious.

Building great products or being part of something big is not an easy task. It is certainly not something every other person can do. There will be several rough patches and several moments that require great sacrifices. If you truly want to succeed and taste sweetness of victory, you should never give up.

Entrepreneurs love working with people who will persist with solving a problem until it is truly solved. A team full of individuals that have a "never say die" attitude is the one that is destined to succeed. It is this attitude that will be expected of you in startups that are destined to succeed.

Working in a startup is tough business and you may find yourself working under pressure most of the time. It is very important to recognise the fact that pressures are good for you.

Consider the experiment conducted by science magazine on snails.

Snail is a small animal with a soft body covered with a coiled shell. Lobster in comparison is a large and strong animal. Snail happens to be favourite diet of lobsters.

Science magazine ran a report about how growth patterns of a particular variety of snail were significantly altered by the presence of lobsters.

When snails grew in an environment free of predators, they began to reproduce when the shell was just 4 mm and their lifespan was 4 months.

Whereas, snails that grew in an environment with predators delayed their reproduction untill they were 8 mm in size and their lifespan increased to 12 months.

Researchers hypothesized that when faced with threats, snails reallocated their resources away from early reproduction towards growth and survival.

Innovation is the hallmark of successful companies. Innovation is not just about the next billion dollar idea. In successful companies, innovation can be seen in every part of the business, whether it is hiring, marketing, sales or R&D.

Innovation in everything a company does is what differentiates between companies that are successful and the ones that are not.

Any entrepreneur who is hungry for success and has a bold vision will expect you to be innovative and will reward you for your innovations.

Do not be part of a startup to be "successful". Success is a relative term. Doing things to be "successful" corrupts your "whys", corrupts your purpose.

Don’t do things to be successful, make money, earn prestige or gain honour. Just do your best and everything else will follow naturally.

Entrepreneurs are not great managers, they have a vision and they are on the job to achieve the vision. They can see what others cannot and they are mad about making it happen.

Entrepreneurs are under constant pressure to get business results, raise funds or pay next month’s salary. Under such pressures, entrepreneurs will expect their teams to do more and to get the job done.

Do not expect entrepreneurs to be great people managers. Even if they have the necessary skills they may not behave like great people managers. It is wise to appreciate this fact and work along with the entrepreneur to get the job done.

Building successful companies takes extreme amount of work. You will clearly be expected to work dead hard. You will be expected to burn your night oil whenever needed. Do not expect a job in a startup to be a comfortable 8 to 5 job.

You being a member of a startup own the startup. You are not an employee and should not be like one. You will be expected to demonstrate high levels of ownership and take charge of things around you proactively.

If your start-up hits a rough patch do not worry too much. One can be successful even in a sinking ship. Whether a startup is destined to succeed or to fail, it does not matter. What matters is the process through which you would be going. If you ensure the process is done well, chances of success increase naturally. Irrespective of the end result, if you maintain the right attitude, you will emerge as a better individual and successful individual.

An entrepreneur’s true job is to make people better not to be nice to them. It is entrepreneur’s responsibility to recognise each individual in their team as they are and work towards making them better individuals.

Do not expect your founders or managers to be good to you at the cost of your own good.