A pretty good leap

Carrying our backpacks, my friend and I squeezed through a sea of beaming freshmen along the corridors. We looked at each other, and laughed sadly at our lack of enthusiasm for school.

Ah, final semester as an undergraduate has its own taste indeed.

“So, what have you been doing in the holidays?” He asked.

You know how sometimes you may stumble upon things that are completely out of your immediate world, because you decided to take a leap of faith? Well sometimes, those leaps can bring you to surprising places. For me, I was brought to my first experience working in a startup last December.

One lazy afternoon, I chanced upon a company called Lightdotlab. It conducts trainings to help people use Excel more intelligently. At the time, it had a clean and simple website broadcasting a clear message, which reflected the founder’s focus infused with good taste. I figured that she could be a fun person to work with. I flirted with the idea of giving up my holidays for a possible stint here.

Why not?

I expected our interview to be just a brief confirmation that i’m in fact, not an online troll. But Grace, the founder, drilled into my past and values like a curious hawk. She also asked about my needs and discussed how this work could meet them. To my surprise, she went further to explain why she had asked those questions and why they were important to her.

Before work began, she bought me a book titled So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. When it first arrived in the mail, I glanced at the bright orange cover. Ah, I knew then that the following weeks were going to be more than just about learning technical skills.

My impression of a start-up was: messy, unstructured.

But that’s not what Lightdotlab wants to be. Instead of shooting with a machine gun to see what hits, Grace prefers to be a sniper with a rifle. And part of being a sniper means being well-prepared; setting up the necessary plans before launching ahead.

On my first day, we laid down our expectations with a level of seriousness as if I was going to be a full time partner for the next 5years. I was oriented around the various structures put in place for tracking and keeping each other accountable.

Over time, I have come to appreciate how having a shared and clear understanding was necessary for any well functioning relationship. Just like implementing the right practices in businesses, time and effort has to be invested from the beginning to set the foundation for subsequent interactions and business situations. Redefining my impression of start-ups, I saw that smart structures, used right, can make us go even faster and further.

The other part of working in a startup did live up to its expectations: dipping my hands into almost everything. After constructing the marketing blueprint, my job ballooned to an octopus wearing several hats; a training assistant, a digital marketer, an opinion article writer, a web consultant to revamp the site’s User Experience (UX). I also poked my head into the firm’s direction, bombarded her with questions to narrow down our value proposition, and suggested potential angles that it has since leveraged to explore.

In a small team, any addition produces an exponential increase in output. That immediacy between contribution and valuable output became my motivation to produce more quality work faster.

Over time, I also got to know the founder a little better.

Grace is the intelligent geek you know in school who gets things done.

Someone whom you would expect to have her timetable planned years in advance. It wasn’t surprising that she chose to study business operations; workflow planning is basically her second nature.

She also loves to explore the deeper insights in life, as you can frequently catch her throwing out phrases like “what are we thinking and doing?”.

Extending these traits into the business world, it seemed almost natural for her to dive into helping businesses use the most common work tool to plan their workpaths and see their performance better.

It soon became apparent that she is also an ardent conversationalist; she could go on about almost anything under the sun (Although I cannot guarantee that you won’t find yourself lost in the endless details of each story).

What was impressive, however, was that even after an entire day of conducting the training workshop (which involved her dancing around the classroom as though it was a theatre), she had more energy than I had as a stationary assistant. Clearly, an enthusiast for her craft. How geeky.

Since the first meeting, Grace has been unreserved with her thoughts. To roll together, one has to be comfortable receiving feedback. When the time comes, she would sit me down, clasped her hands together and threw me questions, like “So, what would you have done differently?

As abrupt as the opportunity had come, it was gone, and it was time for me to return to school.

This leap of faith has ended in surprisingly good ways.

I have always wanted to create something tangible from my ideas, but never had a platform to do so. Not only had Grace bought the paint and canvas for me to experiment, she also provided a conducive environment for us to bounce ideas off each other. She saw enabling people to be an important part of her job as a trainer and as a leader. I think that was what made this experience an enriching one.

Over the last month, I got to meet her dog, Jerry. I got to interview and meet two founders of interesting startups. I made a new friend, Jasmin, who joined us. I met an OCD boss who tries her best not to tell me when I missed a full stop.

Considering how all that happened over the short span of a month, I’d say it was a pretty good leap made back then after all.