Should you work in a start-up?
Are start-ups for everyone? Why should you work in a start-up?
Someone once asked “if you could talk for 30 mins about something without prep what would it be?”
My answer was teaching, parenting, and about the joy of eating out in Bombay.
I’d like to add one more to this- Why should you work in a start-up?
One of my most favourite topics to talk, discuss, and debate. Let me start with a story…
How I landed my job at Flinto
It was March 2016, I’d finished my teaching fellowship and was working in a small ed-tech firm (ed-tech in itself was very new and ofc I was testing waters) but for some reason my heart and soul wasn’t there, and ofc any job after a teaching fellowship would be underwhelming or meh.
Serendipitously I chanced upon this website , I was instantly hooked to what I saw, I went through their videos of the boxes, the unboxing, the 1 min videos. I was sold, heck I wasn’t even a parent then but this was something I wanted to be a part of, I was 200% sure the organisation was in Bangalore (even in 2016, all cool workplaces were mostly there.)
I sent the link to my husband and told him if he has seen/heard of this company. I have a great relationship with my husband but I have the best working- mentor relationship with him, he has and will go to great lengths for my career growth and I am mighty chuffed about this.
Ofc, he had a colleague who had tried Flintobox for her kid (magic of Mumbai, name any new product, someone within 6 yards would have already tried it.)
And, it also happened that my husband’s friend knew a co-founder and I immediately asked to connect. I wrote an email, with my resume and he politely replied telling that they do not have an opening now but will get in touch with me if and when an opportunity is there.
Don’t have role? Create one …
Fast forward 2 months to May 2016, I get a call from someone named Arun who wanted to interview me for a role at Flinto and asked if Saturday morning works. After agreeing I slowly ask “So Arun, what do you do at Flinto? I am the CEO”
I didn’t know, nor expect CEOs to call potential candidates, I was naive.
He had already requested me to send my portfolio, writing work that I have so we have context before the call.
I had a 1.5hr interview Arun, in that he spoke (asked for 20 mins) and the rest of the time I couldn’t stop asking questions. I had two pages filled with questions for him, I wanted to know everything!
I learnt that the organisation was actually a start-up, seed funded and in Chennai.
I was being interviewed for the role of content and curriculum head but not for their current product, infact the role was created for me. I was going to head a B-B business which was only in the ideation stage.
And, I have to move to Chennai.
2016 July to 2020 Jan
I spent 4 glorious years building, learning, and shelving products at Flinto, along the way learnt lessons for my lifetime. Sharing some learnings, and unlearnings.
Should you work in a start-up?
Short answer: Yes, Atleast once in your career.
Now for the long answer:
What is the big deal about working in start-ups, what is all the fuss, why does everyone want to build or work in one? Are start-ups for everyone?
I will start answering bottom-up
Start-ups are not for everyone: It isn’t and that is the truth. Nobody hands over documents or systems and processes to you on a platter. Sometimes the problems you are solving isn’t even there yet, you are building for the future, several times you don’t have a “product-market fit”, there isn’t even a product yet!
Ours was a 37 member team in a 1+1 small apartment somewhere on OMR, Chennai when I joined. Open office, no pantry, no meeting rooms, no big studio. But, we created videos of studio quality that pretty much became industry standard, and kick-ass products that every kid loved.
This isn’t for the faint hearted, not for the ones who want a playbook, definitely not if you want a cubicle.
Why does everyone want to build or work in a start-up? there is a lot of listicles doing the rounds for this question but I will write my why
you learn everyday
you have to unlearn quickly
your skills matter
you cannot be a furniture
your failures are equally important as your success
ownership, accountability, and self-driven
you learn to say no
As you grow in your career one understands that unlearning is important, systems and processes are great but when you are building from scratch, from 0 to 1, there is chaos, you learn to thrive through the chaos, but you come out with clarity.
You can make mistakes and this will teach you more than that successful product or the campaign you ran.
My team (me, 1 front end dev, 2 designers, 1 game designer, and a full-stack dev) together built a product for 5 months. We rolled the beta and understood the flaws.
there was product-market mismatch
We shelved the product. I broke down, felt like a failure, my designer quit but it is one product that I still keep going back to when I start something new. I still have the PRD, the initial screens.
We as a team later went on to the app for Flintoclass , built a social sharing platform Flintocircle for our B-C product.
“What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger”
Your motivation, your passion, your intent to get sh*t done is all that matters. Everything else is a by-product.
Growth: The biggest reason why you should work at a start-up is growth. What do I mean by growth? Is it money? Is it a promotion? Is it scale?
It is mix of everything.
If you are someone who is self-driven (my boss never sat for meetings more than 7 mins), so the onus is always on you.
If you win, it’s yours. If you fail? It’s yours again!
Start-ups are a great place if you are generalist. It is also a great place if you have specific skill.
We have toy designers (it is skill specific), video editors (specialists) to college drop-outs who joined as BD, later became sales lead.
Do you really have to hustle?
You do, if you want to achieve. I will list a few of what I did between Sept 2016- August 2017
wrote the white paper for our first B-B
shot product video for 8 boxes (each box had 35 videos)
teacher training, in person and over video calls
marketing videos for TOFU
user study in focus groups
assembled first 25 boxes (supply chain)
I was pregnant while I did all this, and still call Flintoclass as my first child :)
Why did I do whatever I did? Simple, intent.
I wanted to built something from 0 to 1. When this is your single goal, you will do everything and anything. But, it also matters that you have bosses who are zero bullsh*t, who will guide you in decision making, have their priorities right, trust you, your instincts as much as you trust them and theirs.
Can you get sh*t done? Can you build that screen and reiterate it a dozen times? Then join a start-up.
Treat it as yours, trust your instincts.
Some check points before you make the decision
Talk to the founders or whoever you directly have to work with
For me, I directly worked with my CEO so their vision, thoughts, and passion mattered. If there is sync mismatch it is highly likely you might want to quit faster.
Discuss pay, ask what you are worth, if they are giving you ESOPs, or equity read the fine print thoroughly. Discuss about hikes, yearly raise, promotions. If your employer isn’t comfortable having this discussion, do think twice. If you have a contract, non-compete clause, read all terms beforehand. Discuss about funding and where they are heading.
Discuss team culture
Start-ups are known for team cultures, and if alignment issues are there in this, it is a red flag. Talk about feedback mechanisms, ask about leave policies, these seem trivial but will make life simpler and work time smooth n efficient, ask a lot of questions.
Go ahead, apply for that start-up role you want to, again don’t have a role? Create one! Get stuff done, you will have the best years of your life, you will have great stories to tell but, be prepared.
Be prepared to fight, to work long hours, to put your blood, sweat, and tears in it.
It’s worth it, just do it!