Career Advice
September 11, 2020

4 Ways to Thrive Working at a Startup

Working in a start-up is very different from working in a corporate. Follow the 4 tips to prepare yourself for the journey.

It’s fast-paced, it’s exciting, it’s risky and it may even include a Foosball table: it’s the start-up life.

Whether you’re a fresh-faced intern or an experienced professional shedding the rigid corporate world, start-ups can provide a unique career opportunity. Those of us with a strong entrepreneurial spirit often find working for a startup is a no-brainer with the promise of unlimited creativity and the rare chance to work as a jack of all trades. But, as with every job industry new and old, there are the benefits and the tradeoffs. As a startup platform ourselves, it’s only fair we give you some time tested advice to thrive on your journey. Nobody wants to make the rookie mistake of turning up with rose-tinted glasses or discounting a top-notch opportunity due to fear of the unknown.

1. Embrace the journey

So what classifies as a startup then? While a hip co-working space and group of young, overly caffeinated employees might be a tell-tale sign for many, startups in Hong Kong are popping up full tilt in all sorts of industries. Starting from scratch, a startup is a company in its infancy (usually less than 5 years old) where its founder/co-founders are developing a viable product, service or platform. Initially, the startup is financed by its founders/co-founders and often supplemented by outside investors, crowdfunding or credit. As a consequence, it’s normally backed by a relatively small team working in a flat hierarchy.

This brings me to what should be your starting point. When applying for a position at a startup, first and foremost you should find if your values align with the founders’ mission. If you’re walking in thinking about money or what the company can do for you, you’re heading down the wrong path. Walking into your first interview, there should be a fire in your belly with the knowledge that you’d be securing a meaningful role in shaping and growing the company. If you apply to an organisation you’re interested in and passionate about, embracing the chaos and uncertainty of the industry should go without saying. Yes, the hours are likely to be long and unpredictable but the trade off is that working in a small and collaborative environment provides you with the mentorship and learning you could never dream of receiving in a larger corporation.

Once you’re onboard for the right reasons and you’re ready to embrace the journey of working for a startup, the rewards are limitless. Where else is your career progression a reflection of your impact on the company and not your place in their hierarchy!?

2. Teamwork makes the dream work

This cheesy cliche rings very true in the startup world. Being a team player is a must. Since you’ll be part of a smaller workforce, it’s inevitable you’ll be spending a lot of time collaborating with colleagues and even the CEO on a daily basis. If you’re not one to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in on a team level and build a solid rapport, then start-ups probably aren’t for you. Adding to this, don’t expect to have a fixed job description while working at a startup. Although you may have one title on paper, the beauty of a startup is that you get to try on many hats that ordinarily you would never have the opportunity to explore. Take things in your stride and make the most of all the hands-on experience you’re getting. Working in a startup is also unique in that whether you’re an intern or more senior member, you get to see your ideas actually materialise. I can confirm working at a start-up means I’m surrounded by innovation, collaboration and open communication where ideas and constructive criticism are welcomed.

Although people often view start-ups as employing just Gen Z and Millennials, veterans within the industry also take up crucial roles within the company at later stages. As the company evolves, often experienced professionals start to be hired which can be intimidating for entry level employees who have helped to shape the business from the get-go. However, senior team members aren’t the enemy. They can help mentor younger staff members and fast track their career potential. In large corporations many of these senior members are inaccessible, hidden amongst the hierarchy, so make the most of their wisdom!

Make the most of the team work culture. Most startups reward their employees hard work with lots of fun activities and free amenities. Maybe it’s a weekly board game night, happy hour or a team dinner…working at a startup brings lots of bonuses and the chance to know your colleagues on a personal level too.

3. Change is constant

When you apply at a startup, it’s up to you to assess the risks. Do your research in order to learn about the company’s trajectory and make an informed decision. Maybe this is from press releases, Google, competitors or investors. Working for a startup will never be a sure thing (in fact in the U.S. there are talks dedicated to ‘startup funerals’) and change is always going to be a constant. So be realistic in your expectations and do the research before signing up.

Being comfortable with change is a necessity when working for a startup. From moving offices regularly to processes and procedures constantly evolving, things will always be in a state of flux. Even your job title is bound to evolve. If you can prove you have the commitment and initiative to roll with these changes, you will definitely be setting yourself up for success within the company. Some founders even reward their employees’ dedication with a financial stake in the company. As our own founder Julio will vouch, “working in a dynamic environment means you get to take control of your professional development while learning something new everyday”.

Be vocal amongst all this change. It’s true, communication really is key. When you are a part of a small, newly formed team where things are constantly changing, there’s no such thing as over communicating. While you might fear being ‘that’ person, everybody is in the same boat. Remember the company is still in its trial and error stage and checking in with each other regularly is vital to the startup’s success. Whether you’re working remotely or in the office, touch base and speak up when you’re uncertain.

4. Take a breather

When you work at a startup, you’re used to everything being done at a break-neck speed. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to take time out, grab a bite to eat or hydrate now and again. For your mental health and the sustainability of your role, it’s important to strive for balance as best as you can.

On a personal level, this may mean getting creative. Once you’ve let your loved ones know the expectations of your role and the hours it entails, utilise apps like Facetime when overtime is required or request remote work. Follow the 3-day-rule which tells you to plan the tasks you need to do for the next 3 days only and no further. Taking a breather is super important, as is learning to adopt a stoic mindset, by only worrying about the things you can influence and not things out of your control.

Be organised. Think about adopting the Agile Project Management technique of asking yourself three questions each day: What are today’s goals? Did you finish yesterday’s goals? Is there anything holding you back? Dedicate 20 minutes a day to planning the next day so you’re not going to pieces when you walk in to work the next morning.

Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep on weekdays. Working yourself to the bone isn’t sustainable and is going to lead to mistakes and shortcuts. It may be a fast-paced environment at a startup, but taking a time-out for your own well-being is just as crucial to the company’s success. You know what they say, work hard — play hard.

Finally, log out! When you’re done with work, switch off, log out, and don’t check to see who is online or what needs to be done. Go have that beer or join that gym class! Everybody knows you’ve earned it!

Without a doubt, working at a startup can be extremely rewarding and a great way to fast track your career. Like everything, it comes with its pros and cons and may not be for the faint-hearted. Don’t let the free craft beer or foosball table be the deciding factor. If you’re contemplating working for a start-up, remember to do your research, make sure your goals align with the founders’, and get ready to enjoy the ride to a fulfilling career!

Sound like a career up your alley? Take a peek at some of the latest start-up opportunities here.

Written by
Mikalea Thompson

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