Part 2: Dead weight & the value creator

What’s it like to work in a startup?

The “dead weight” and the “value creator” are two very important personas in a startup. Before we jump into the what, why, and how, let me first tell you about my short, embarrassing experience as the “dead weight”.

My short, embarrassing experience as Dead Weight

Once upon a time during my undergraduate studies, I got my first proper internship. I was so excited. I was finally going to get some experience in marketing and add something credible to my CV.

Sadly, my initial excitement was suffocated over the next few weeks. The internship didn’t turn out quite like I expected:

Every day I came in hoping to work on something cool. But I was always met with the same response: “We don’t have anything for you do to right now.” So I’d sit down and do my homework for the entire shift. (Occasionally, they’d try to scrape up some sort of busy work. But mostly, I did homework.)

That happened almost everyday throughout the entire 4 month internship. Come in. No work. Do homework. Learn nothing.

At the end of the internship, I was too embarrassed to even list it on my CV. If an interviewer were to ask me about it, I would have nothing meaningful to say. “Ummm… I did my homework.” The unfortunate truth was: I didn’t create any value there. I had been dead weight.

After those 4 painful months I realized something very important. The dud internship was my employer’s fault. But it was my fault too. I should have intentionally looked for ways to create value even when my boss had nothing for me to do.

This realization completely changed the way I approached work from that point on. Because I NEVER wanted to be dead weight again.

In my next internship, I thought everyday about that lesson. I was determined to be a value creator, not dead weight. I purposely looked for new ways to create value in my position that went outside my normal job description.

Why “dead weight & the value creator” matter in startups

What does this have to do with startups? Most entry applicants start out as dead weight.

Here’s an example:

Probably the most abused line in the (entry level) job applications repertoire is: “I’m a quick learner with lots of potential” or a sexier way to say it, “I’m a talent in the making.”

What does that even mean?

For me it means: I’m going to be dead weight for a little while until you teach me some ways to create value.

In a big company, most of the time that’s okay. They hire potential, and they have training and mentor programs set up to mold and shape that potential into something better.

They have systems to turn dead weight with potential into a value creating machines.


In a startup, you can’t be JUST a quick learner with lots of potential.

There’s no time for dead weight.

You have to be a value creator on day 1 — which also means you have to go in knowing how to do something — whether it’s coding, marketing, product development, sales, or something else.

It’s no secret that startups are resource-constrained — they don’t have much money. So they have to keep their burn rate low. That means every penny used needs to be a valuable investment.

Dead weight is not a valuable investment. (Especially in an early stage startup.)

So you want to work in a startup?

Be a value creator not dead weight. Here’s a few pointers you want consider when applying.

Have a/some tangible skill(s)

You need to know how to do something concrete (and preferably have experience or evidence to prove your competence). If you don’t, then go out and get some skills. The internet is a wonderful place — there’s tons of free resources on almost anything. You can also create your own side projects to practice your skills and have something tangible to add to your portfolio.

I joined a startup to lead marketing, specifically content and email marketing — both skills I had been teaching myself over the previous year. How did I do it? I used all the free online resources I could find. I read how-to books by industry thought leaders. I networked with others working in the same fields. I volunteered to do content marketing in a nonprofit organization. And I created my own blog to put everything I learned into practice.

Find a gap.

Consider the make-up of the startup team. Find a gap between what they need to be successful and what they currently have.

The best place to be is in that gap because you can make a good case for why you’re valuable and why you should start right away.

I saw AdLaunch’s CEO pitch at a startup event. Having a background as a blogger, I immediately saw value in the service concept. I caught him afterwards and asked if we could meet for coffee to talk more about the service and what stage the startup was in — more importantly, what were the startup’s needs at that moment.

Hint, hint: I was doing research. And guess what? I found a gap.

So, do some research and find your gap. Then get ready to pitch.

Communicate how you help the company

Once you’ve found a gap, you’re ready to make your pitch. Hopefully, you have some concrete skills and experience using them. Here’s how copy writing wisdom can help make a better pitch:

Communicate benefits over features.

An example…

Features: I can plan content marketing strategy, write blog posts, and write compelling copy. I know my way around the Wordpress CMS and how to use an autoresponder to create targeted email campaigns.

Yes, these are concrete skills and tasks that I can do.

But, unless my interviewer is very knowledgeable about content and email marketing, she doesn’t have a clear picture of how I can bring value to the start up. Instead, focus on the benefits.

Benefits: I can use a mix of content marketing and email marketing techniques to increase customer awareness about your startup, find new leads and create content and email campaigns to convert these leads into customers. All this equals to: I can help you grow your business. *mic drop*

Are you dead weight or a value creator?

The moral of this story is: you have complete control over whether you are dead weight or a value creator.

If you want to work in a startup, you have to be a value creator!

So go out. Get some skills. Find a gap. And pitch your benefits.

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