How to Become Indispensable in Your Next Startup Role
First things first– congratulations on your new role. At Tradecraft, we’ve witnessed just how much work goes into landing a job at a great startup, and you should feel great about having made it this far.
While you may be ready to celebrate, it’s important you realize that your real work is just beginning.
To put things in context– in order to extend you an offer, someone at your new company (probably your boss) had to identify a mission-critical job that justified a hit to the startup’s scarce financial resources. Instead of giving this responsibility to an existing, trusted team member, she convinced everyone (including her boss) to roll the dice on you.
While your new teammates would like to spend the time and energy to ensure your success at the company, unfortunately, everyone is already burnt out from their own responsibilities. So it looks like you’re going to have to onboard yourself.
We’ve compiled this advice based on learnings from lots of new startup employees and their bosses about what turns a fresh hire into an invaluable team member. It all seems to tie back to a core tenet: create value. Create as much as you can, as quickly as possible.
Here’s some specific and practical advice we’ve gathered on how you can do just that:
Your first day of work doesn’t need to wait until your first day in the office. Use the time between when you sign your contract and your official start date to gather intelligence on the following parts of the company so that you can hit the ground running:
The Growth Engine
Have a solid understanding of the company’s growth engine and how your role relates to it. Find out the company’s “one metric that matters.” Then make a list of all the functions you could perform in your role to influence the positive movement of that metric.
Take time to get deeply familiar with the product. If it’s a B2B product, read reviews and talk to existing customers. If B2C, use it yourself and test it on your friends. Take note of the “aha moment” (or lack thereof). Look at various features and make educated guesses on why those choices were made.
Get on LinkedIn and find out who your colleagues are. Learn their names. Find out what they do and how long they’ve been doing it. Try mapping the organization and getting a sense of where you fit within it.
If you managed to get the job, chances are that you already have at least one friend at the company. Find an opportunity to grab lunch with her and get a sense of the company’s culture. Find out what gets people props during the company all-hands and what gets them grumpy emails from the CEO.
Bring a Winning Attitude
No matter how much you prepare, there will be parts of your job that you can only learn by doing. Your team will tolerate your learning curve, but only if you bring a winning attitude.
While every startup values different character traits, here are some that will make you a good culture fit at any fast-growing company:
Startups are understaffed ships that struggle to stay afloat. When you notice a leak in the hull, don’t just ignore it because it isn’t “your job.” Even if you didn’t cause the problem, take the responsibility to fix it.
“Even if you didn’t cause the problem take the responsibility to fix it.”
When people from large companies join smaller ones, they often assume that they’ll have a few months to acclimate before they’re expected to add real value. You should assume that your team is expecting you to add value on day one. So even while you’re devising your 3-month plan, find quick wins that play to your skills. Get friends to adopt the product. Grow one of the company’s social channels. Find low hanging product bugs to report. This will increase your runway to hit longer-term goals.
Your boss didn’t hire you because she wanted to manage a new employee. She hired you because there was too much work to be done and she needed some of it off her plate. If you’re constantly asking her how to do things, you’ll quickly be seen as a burden vs. an asset.
“When you have a question or problem, don’t immediately turn it into a to-do for your boss.”
When you have a question or problem, don’t immediately turn it into a to-do for your boss. Consult the internet. Consult your peers. Consult your co-workers. If after all of that you still can’t figure out a solution, then bring it to your boss. But before bringing her your problem, brainstorm potential solutions and bring her the best two or three to choose from.
Make Your Boss’s Life Easier
The founder/CEO of your startup is tasked with bringing the company’s vision to fruition. This is a hard job. Depending on the size of the company, you may be one layer removed or several. So how do you make sure that you are contributing, in whatever way you are capable, to fulfilling the company’s vision?
Make your boss’s life easier.
If you’re consistently taking steps to help your boss achieve her most important goals, and she’s doing the same thing for her boss, this will inevitably lead to the CEO/founder and will ensure that whatever you’re spending your time on is core to the company’s mission.
“You should assume that your team is expecting you to add value on day one.”
If you want to do impactful work AND set yourself up for promotions as your boss achieves success in the organization, focus on making her life easier.*
*While making your boss’s life easier is priority number one, part of acting like an owner means helping out anyone on your team who needs it.
Keep Building Your Skills
Your ability to play a larger and larger role in the success of the company hinges on your ability to successfully continue building your skills.
For whatever metric you’re in charge of, come up with a list of activities you can perform to move that metric in the right direction. Separate that list into two columns. Column A are the activities that you currently know how to do. Column B are the ones that you don’t. Spend any downtime you have moving activities from column B to column A.
If you’re in sales or business development, learn to read body language and facial expressions.
If you’re a growth marketer, read the latest about conversion rate optimization or marketing automation.
If you’re a product designer, dive into data visualization.
Read books. Take online courses. Get tutoring from your peers.
As soon as all the items in column B have moved to column A, you’ll be ready for a promotion.
Conclusion: Create Value
The common thread in all this advice is to focus on creating value. Create value for your boss and your teammates. Do this by owning your own role or by helping your boss achieve her goals. Do this by building your skills while you stack up a series of quick wins.
Make creating value your focus every single day and we promise that you’ll become indispensable in your next startup role.