What is working for a startup like?

I’m currently working at a startup and my previous job was also a startup. So what is that like? Here are some thoughts! In the past I was a consultant and worked mainly for larger firms so here are somethings that stood out to me.

Startups are cool

A whole new world

Fresh pastures, a blank slate, a green field project. You have zero technical debt because you have zero tech! There are no legacy systems or decades old databases which engineers are too afraid to touch.

At least initially… Eventually some of the initial systems you’ve built will start to be abused. That micro service built for a prior initiative that sort of does what you need but you’ve not had the capacity to properly update will bite you.

The teams will be small and doing the best they can with what they’ve got. You’ll need to be comfortable with a few rough edges and be prepared for things to break.

If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. – Reid Hoffman - co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn

Gotta go fast!

My prior work experience was working with large organisations which came with a lot of bureaucracy. In a startup there isn’t enough time for multiple department heads to take weeks to approve a decision. Things need to be built yesterday.

While a lack of bureaucracy is certainly a plus I find this one of the more interesting parts of working for a startup. My instinct is to push for a high level of quality and that tends to come with lots of automated quality control checks. I frequently asks myself if it makes sense to push for certain practices in the context of the business.

I try and follow they a principle of not letting perfect being the enemy of good enough. Things will break. The business model itself might not work. For example, I’m a fan of TDD but I found myself relying on fewer, higher level tests than having a lot of unit tests.

Teams are Very Personal

The teams I’ve worked with in startups have all been great! Extremely friendly and all very passionate about what they are doing. You sort of have to be quite invested in what you’re trying to build.

You’ll also be exposed to a lot of different aspects of the business which I have found to be super interesting. Sometimes it’ll be all hands on deck for things outside of your expertise! You’re unlikely to see how the operations team works in detail in a larger organisation but if they have an emergency at a startup there is a decent chance you’re going to be getting involved.

You’re also able to have a large individual impact working at a startup. You’ll be able to have a lot of sway of the direction of the technical implementations and the code you ship can really help out either your customers or the business. This is a double edged sword if you’re less keen on having that responsibility but I enjoyed it.

Startups are a lot of work

Yeah, for all of the cool and trendy vibes they give off you’ll be working pretty hard trying to bring something into existence. That means a lot of work. Sometimes it can mean long days. Sometimes it can mean working very hard on an imitative only to throw it all away a week later when the business pivots.

There isn’t a lot of capacity for engineering in most startups so you’ll frequently be stretched thin. A few times when the thing you and your team are working on is the current biggest pain point / highest priority for the business and it will feel like all eyes are on you.

Startups are risky

Most new businesses fail. Most tech startups are VC backed and those investors are looking for high returns but expecting a lot of their investments to fail. A startup legitimately might not be around for very long.

I have first hand experience of this. The first startup I worked at wasn’t able to raise another round of funding and so it ceased to exist. Thankfully the C-level team were very transparent about the fundraising process.

We worked right down to the wire and it was very stressful and tense. I was about to ship a feature when we finally got the news that the last VC firm who had expressed interest had turned us down.

I went form coding furiously to keep a product alive to not having a job which felt like someone had slammed the breaks on my life!

It was rough but it didn’t put me off startups forever. I enjoyed the culture and fast pace and learning what works and what doesn’t while building. I’m working at another startup now! :-)

Anyway… This might read as more of a ramble than a concise blog post. Maybe someone will find some value from it.

Thanks for reading!

[Tom Heyes]

836 Words

2023-28-02 00:00 +0000