Startup land is an odd place, a place completely foreign to my feared expectations of 9 to 5 “strictly business” standards. Even my first day on the job at Bugsnag felt like a real life episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley. No one is ever caught dead in one of those crazy things people call suits, shoes are rarely worn in the office, every email you receive from one of your colleagues or even your boss is entirely uncapitalized and signed off with something like “cheers” or “aloha” and a quirky gif with some sort of clever tech pun, you’re forced to get to know every hipster coffee shop ever known to man, and plain t-shirts with a simplistic logo on the front become a crucial part of you and everyone around you’s closet. If those reasons alone aren’t enough to convince you to up and leave your job, here’s a few more on why you should choose to work at a startup at some point in your career (and why I love that I made this choice):
- There IS a way to mix business and pleasure- Working at a startup provides you a unique opportunity to step out of the cubicle of professionalism and into the freedom of informality. Learning to not take yourself so seriously while also being extraordinarily serious about aiding in the success of the company is a balance that is hard to find, but is easier to discover at a startup. A casual environment is not only common, but almost expected, so learn to relax a little if you decide to move into this kind of work experience. I’m sure businesses of all sizes and success levels offer opportunities for company bonding, but at startups these opportunities are enhanced by the fact that the number of employees is generally low, allowing for actual bonding, not just interacting with the usual people you do at work and simply pretending the other 90% of employees do not exist. At Bugsnag, I was fortunate enough to experience game nights, trivia nights, company trips, and many other activities that were not only enjoyable, but also kept the workplace boisterous, close-knit, and most of all comfortable to be in.
- Culture- Startup culture is a real thing. The offices really do have couches and bean bags and snack stations. And there really are ping pong tables and Xboxes available whenever you’d like. But these are all merely environmental aspects of a startup. The best part of startup culture isn’t the objects they use to make their offices cool and appealing. The best part is the internal structure of the office. A startup is like the Flinstone car, completely run by the people within it and each individual’s efforts to keep it moving forward. If you are satisfied with being given a straight forward list of tasks on the daily and are unenthused about completing any task beyond that list, don’t bother with small companies or especially startups ever in your career. A startup employee’s job is to find the potholes in the business and fill them and anyone who is unwilling to do so is unfit for this specific type of culture.
- The Ground Up Experience- Unlike many corporate businesses and larger organizations, startups are just taking their first steps into unchartered territory. Their “one small step for mankind” is yet to turn into its great leap, but the best part is you’re there to plant your feet right beside them. Every day you come to work feeling like the founding father of something on the verge of immense success. It’s like wearing a dog cone around your neck and running up a mountain with sharp cliffs on either side. All you can see is forward and all you know is that the only place to go is up. There is no capacity for failure because you can’t afford to consider it. Your job as an employee is to maintain this optimism for the entirety of your employment. You get to the point where you want the business to excel as much as its founders and investors do and then you are running alongside the business towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Utter success is so close at all times that you can almost taste it. It’s invigorating.
- IMPACT- This one is crucial. In larger businesses, internships can often result in the assignment of useless tasks and an overall feeling of being the smallest fish in the biggest pond. In startups, employees not only feel as if they are a relevant fish in the pond, but are also encouraged to swim upstream and make an even bigger impact than is expected of them. Because businesses are all a numbers game, the smaller the number of employees, the more that is expected of each individual employee. This means the larger the opportunity there is for you to do relevant and meaningful work, the more work you may have, but it’s worth it. Little compares to that moment when you close your first deal by yourself or ship your first new feature for a product or publish your first blog post on the company page and know that the time you spent with the business left a permanent imprint.
- The people- When venture capitalists invest in startups, they are investing in the people as much as they are the company. The teams you work with are people that are so incredible that even an outside source was willing to invest in their abilities and passion. And now you’re one of those people! Small teams mean that the people you work with become a little family. Collaboration is a staple of being an employee at a startup. If you are not able to communicate well with others and go out of your specific job description to keep the company wheel turning, startups are not the place for you. There is no doubt in my mind that larger businesses have great people too, but in a startup atmosphere, there is a significantly larger opportunity not only to get to know these people but to learn how to be incredible in your own way. Think of the most creative, intelligent, and impressive people you know. Now imagine working with them. That’s what it’s like working for an established startup and it’s spectacular.
I hope I haven’t inspired too many of you who are reading this as workers in the corporate world to quit abruptly and head running for the startup hills of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but if I have, good. Startups are the absolute best place to find a casual work experience with an optimal environment to make a lasting impact. I recommend that anyone who is looking for an amazing experience and isn’t afraid to get their hands a little dirty pick up a shovel and start digging around for a position at a startup. You’d be surprised what possibilities can bloom out of the smallest of ideas.
The biggest of thanks to Bugsnag for an unbelievable summer filled with endless opportunities, memories, and growth.