Here’s What I’ve Learned After My First Two Weeks In a Startup: A Series

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Your Team is Your Biggest Ally

One cannot underestimate the power of reflection.

This is the case with every area of life.

So of course, career success hinges on reflection.

Prominent writer and organizational leadership consultant, Margaret Wheatley, says,

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.

Take a second and ask yourself:

What have I learned up to this point in my startup journey?

Working at a startup is a very accelerated experience.

In all honesty, It can be a bit intimidating too.

I recently made the jump to tech after seven years of working for non-profits.

Talk about a learning curve.

A few weeks ago, I published an article introducing this series, What I’ve learned after two weeks in a tech startup.

The purpose for this series is twofold:

  • To personally reflect on my own career journey.
  • To attempt to convey the growth I’ve experienced.

My goal is to inspire you to do the same.

Lesson #2: your team is your biggest Aly.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash

It was 2006, two new moms and transplants to New York City, Julia Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, meet for the first time on a (professional) blind date if you will.

Their goal? Start a company that gives customers a cycling experience they can’t find anywhere else.

Welcome to the stage: Soul Cycle.

The business model? To charge $30 for a class, for something that was already part of most gym memberships. And it worked.

Selling all of its shares to Equinox, starting in 2011, Soul Cycle did well enough to net both Rice and Cutler some $90 million each.

Not bad for two new moms who had never built a company before, weren’t fitness instructors themselves, and didn’t raise a dime of traditional venture capital.

To build the kind of company that Rice and Cutler have had is no small task. It’s easy to see the end result of a venture like Soul Cycle and focus on the success now.

So many forget to remember where they started.

The fact of the matter is in the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know.

That pertains to anything in life.

As I said before, Rice and Cutler weren’t even fitness instructors, yet wanted to build a fitness company.

On the surface that makes no sense; in practice it’ll only work if you surround yourself with a team that does know what you don’t.

At this point in my new job, I’m over a month into it all. I’ve officially got to the point where I tell people that I work in Tech (or Private Equity depending on the day, both are true!).

If there is anything I’ve found over the last month to be true, it’s that I just don’t know what I don’t know. The same is true for all of us at some point or another.

Yet I’ve realized that what I lack in sweat capital, I can leverage in social capital. What do I mean?

Ask a lot of questions.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

One of the key means of learning is asking questions.

In any new opportunity, the team you have surrounded yourself with or been surrounded by is there as a resource.

Yes, Google and YouTube are great.

However, the benefits of asking (even the seemingly self explanatory) questions teaches you more about your company from people who have been where you’re at.

Not only that, asking questions leads to relationship building.

Relationship building leads to social capital.

Social capital can easily lead to new and exciting opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid.

Andrew Merle, a Nutritionist and writer on Medium, talks here about the power of asking others more questions, yet people avoid doing so:

“Other people shy away from asking questions because it could make them look unsure or uninformed.”

Fear. Looking stupid. Imposter Syndrome. You name it, we get in our own way. I know I sure do.

Yet what is demonstrated when you aren’t afraid to look stupid anyways?

“..having the confidence to ask questions is actually an indication of great strength and leadership.

Strength and leadership? I’ll take that.

The last month has provided me with many opportunities to ask a lot of questions (some very simple and trivial at times).

You know what I’ve lost from doing so? Absolutely nothing.

Leverage Your Relationships

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

The illustrious British statesmen, Winston Churchill, once said,

“Success is going from failure to failure, without losing enthusiasm.”

This statement may at first glance be pretty evident and even reassuring, however for most it may seem a little too optimistic.

Staying enthusiastic along the journey of success is a hard thing to do. Regardless if you’re a Winston Churchill.

What’s the key then?

One is choosing who to surround yourself with and leverage those relationships.

How does this translate to being the new guy or gal in the office?

Knowing your team, utilizing the channels of communication that are in place, and building relationships is the key to your success; not knowing it all or going solo.

The sooner we rid ourself of the mentality that we need to know everything, the sooner we’ll succeed.

There is so much freedom realizing that there are other people out there who know what I don’t.

The next step is building relationships.

Introductions are key.

You can’t know someone if you don’t take the chance to introduce yourself.

Again, very simple principle, but man it’s crazy how many people don’t follow it (myself included).

The fact that such a large number of people are working remotely now only increases the opportunity for this tendency. Yet, there are so many means to still build relationships with our team even if they are on the other side of the world.

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Something that I did within the first week of starting my job was reaching out to a few different people across the company & setting up a zoom call.

There wasn’t an agenda. No particular project needing to be discussed. It was a simple, 15 minute conversation where I connected with each person and got to know them.

After 15 minutes, we went on with the work day. Yet the success in my day wasn’t in the other tasks I checked off but the relationships I gained with my teammates.

Slack is your friend, use it often and wisely.

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

Setting up introductions are key to starting relationships; staying in communication is key to growing them.

The initial Zoom calls open the door to a mutually beneficial working relationship. Tools such as Slack serve as channels to build them.

This is by no means an endorsement solely for Slack. The past few companies I’ve worked for have used it and so that’s what I’m familiar with. If your team uses something else, great.

The bottom line is actually utilizing the tools at your disposal to communicate both effectively and often.

I also realize just how big of a distraction channels like Slack can be. Each company has different expectations when it comes to frequency and response time. Definitely differ to that when strategizing how you want to use the tool.

However, regardless, this is just another means for you to leverage relationships in your work to propel yourself and your team to greater success.

In Closing…

At the end of the day, our success will only be as impressive as our relationships are strong.

Your team is your biggest Aly.

How you plan on leaning into your teammates strengths, utilize the channels available to communicate, and ultimately choose to cultivate those relationships will dictate your success.

I hope this has been helpful as you embrace your growth and learning opportunities that inevitably come as a professional.

Stay tuned for the continuation of my series: what I’ve learned after two weeks in a tech startup.

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