The 3 Most Important Lessons I Learned During My First Year at a Startup

1stdibs’ HQ

I joined 1stdibs one year ago as Recruiting Coordinator on an extremely high-volume recruiting team, and I’d like to share my journey with you. If you’ve ever dreamed of working at a startup or making the transition into a startup from the non-startup world, you might find my experiences compelling.

As I walked through the glass doors on my “1stday at 1stdibs,” I was excited and nervous; I felt as though I was embarking on a new adventure, and I was ready to dive right in and get down to business. Part of the reason why I was so nervous was because I was coming from a tiny company where I worked remotely. How was I to adapt to working alongside 100+ people on a daily basis? How does one even act in an office? When should I ask for help? Can I ask for help? Countless questions and anxieties were racing through my mind, but I somehow calmed myself and took the proverbial leap of faith, trusting my own intuition and feeling confident that I could learn to adapt on the fly.

A year has passed, and I’m still standing. It’s been a fast-paced, exciting, and enriching year, with early mornings and late nights, scrambles to resolve urgent recruiting issues, and interesting People Team initiatives. Where at first I was cautiously treading through the hallways while still becoming comfortable with my position at 1stdibs, I now feel confident and attuned to the dynamics that keep the company moving forward. Out of everything I’ve learned during my 1styear, these are the three things that have stuck with me the most:

  1. Step outside your comfort zone. (In my case, pole vault out of it, with all the ups and downs.)

My comfort zone is, admittedly, my happy place. Any hint at the possibility of being pushed outside of my comfort zone sends pricks of anxiety up my spine. When it comes to my work, taking risks on new projects flings me into a downward spiral of self-judgment and self-doubt. Flashback to February 2016: barely three months after I joined 1stdibs as a Recruiting Coordinator, my manager calmly explained to me during our weekly 1:1 that I would be managing the 2016 Summer Intern Program. All I could think of at that moment was that a large number of college students’ summer experiences were in my hands, and I didn’t know where to start. Luckily for me, a People Teammate of mine had managed previous 1stdibs summer intern programs, and she was able to work with me through the planning, recruiting, and execution.

I had many moments of hesitation and uncertainty along the way. My first presentation at 1stdibs was in front of the interns’ mentors, most of whom are managers. Presenting to a room of managers was not something I was comfortable with by any means, but I used my 1:1s with my manager to create a presentation that articulated how I would provide guidance to the mentors during the summer.

2. Be the change you want to see in your company; don’t just propose new ideas, do them!

The People Team makes it a priority to start new initiatives in which employees are involved and enriched. Working at a fast-growing tech company enables you to witness the company culture shifting right before your very eyes, and, if all goes according to plan, response to the changes is positive. I wanted to continue adding to the positive change, so when I was presented with an opportunity to introduce a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program to the company, I thought it would be an innovative way to provide an additional perk and wellness program. But, I also had my doubts that anyone would be interested and I thought it might be difficult and troublesome to implement. How the heck am I supposed to get everything together to roll out this new program?

Turns out, it’s pretty easy to get an initiative like this off the ground. I formulated a gameplan that included sending a company-wide email to gauge interest, working with a teammate to ensure that the farm had all necessary insurance and paperwork together for deliveries, and, finally, introducing the CSA program to the folks who expressed interest.

The day of the first delivery was a great learning experience because it forced me to go with the flow. I was unsure of the delivery process, and didn’t have a solid plan for employee pick-up. Some things that I did on the first delivery day didn’t carry over to subsequent weeks because they were unnecessary: providing a list where participants could check their name off as they picked up their bag was an extra step that we could eliminate, as was collecting cash from folks instead of charging them on Venmo.

Feedback on the CSA was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the fact that bags full of fresh fruits and veggies were conveniently delivered within mere steps of their desk, and they could taste the difference of farm-fresh produce as opposed to grocery store produce. We even created a CSA Slack channel to share recipes that used the (sometimes obscure) ingredients we received each week. In retrospect, I’m happy I forced myself to just do the thing and get the CSA program off the ground.

3. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. It’s the only way you’ll get sh*t done.

As year one progressed, I became increasingly more comfortable and agile with my scheduling tasks and other day-to-day work. I began to think about additional responsibilities I could absorb from my colleagues, who were constantly swamped with recruiting needs. I knew I was capable of doing more on top of my daily tasks and wanted to alleviate the pressures that the two 1stdibs’ recruiters felt in fulfilling our aggressive hiring needs.

I saw my opening when my manager asked our team to create a list of nine (yes, nine) goals to be completed on top of our usual tasks over the next quarter. Instead of waiting to be assigned more tasks, I realized I needed to be proactive and ask for more. Three of my goals differed from the others: they would propel my day-to-day responsibilities into a new direction of growth, and into an area that was nowhere near my original job description. These three goals would be challenging and slightly intimidating, but would ultimately enable me to advance my skillset and put me on the right track to becoming a recruiter at some point in the future.

Luckily for me, my manager was on board. Not only did she encourage my attaining these goals, she pushed me further and made the three goals more aggressive. Instead of assisting the recruiters in hosting interview training workshops, I was to host my very own. Instead of sourcing for one role, I was to source for two. While it was scary to outright ask for added responsibility, I’m happy I forced myself to ask: it showed initiative, passion, and ownership.

My advice to you…

I hope that in reading this 1-year snapshot of my life at 1stdibs, I’ve given you a bit of advice in tackling the stress of transitioning into a new job or industry. Ideally, I would like to leave you with an impressive life lesson that you will remember for the rest of your professional career, but I’m afraid my parting advice is something you’ve likely heard over and over: take more risks, hold yourself accountable, and don’t be afraid to ask for things.

In writing this blog post, I’ve come to realize how I’ve evolved professionally and personally over the past year. I don’t ask as many questions of my colleagues anymore; instead, I provide answers to new teammates and 1stdibbers. I know that speaking up and suggesting new ideas can be risky, but that the end result is usually worth it. And if you’re as naturally cautious as I am, constantly being in contact with people across many functions can be both intimidating and exhilarating. Everything I’ve overcome in year one has contributed to where I stand today, and has made me look forward to the next year to come.