For me, building great teams and creating exciting, new products is what I was meant to do. There’s nothing that compares to seeing a group of people—sometimes with more enthusiasm than experience—come together to do something extraordinary.
That said, early stage startups require a level of effort and perseverance that is different from working for many large media and advertising companies. Here are nine things that startup founders and employees must get used to:
Embracing rejection. You’re not really working for a startup unless people dismiss you constantly. Expect to be rejected for reasons that are often in direct conflict with one another. For example, your product may be simultaneously too big or too small, too expensive or too cheap.
Working alongside random people. If you want an early stage startup experience you should be able to work anywhere and share your workspace with random people. Noisy co-working spaces or hotel lobbies are ideal for this.
Staying at crappy hotels. If you have a late meeting or dinner in the city then you may have to pay $400 to stay in a crappy hotel because you booked last minute. Alternatively, you might have to crash on a friend’s couch and shop at GAP or H&M the next morning so you have something to wear.
Going to Starbucks—a lot. Idling at Starbucks in between meetings is a way of life for many startup founders and salespeople. After each visit you’ll leave with the sound of 99 cents of change jingling in your pocket since a small Starbucks coffee in New York City inexplicably costs two dollars and one cent.
Doing odd jobs. Early stage startups don’t have support staff so be prepared to book your own travel, assemble your own IKEA desk, and refill the toilet paper dispenser in the office bathroom. There’s no job too small for startup employee!
Being ignored. Being part of an early stage startup means writing dozens of emails and making countless phone calls each day to potential customers and investors and getting no reply. This is especially true on Mondays when the rest of the world didn’t work all weekend like you did and is just now getting back to work. Believe it or not, you are not their priority.
On the flip side, expect a lot of emails from people who want something from you, including a job, an advisory board seat or the opportunity to be your offshore development shop.
Firing a friend. Nothing is more “startup-y” than making the mistake of hiring a friend or family member and then realizing shortly thereafter that you will have to fire them.
Getting weird ailments. Migraine headaches, rashes, eye infections and other weird ailments can happen exactly when you didn’t need them most: before a big investor presentation, customer meeting or in-person interview with a journalist.
Flying coach. Early stage startups don’t have much of a travel budget. So if you’re working for a startup, expect to fly coach. Your seat may be in 42B—last row middle right next to the extra large passenger and the bathroom.
No matter what happens, though, the important thing is to just keep smiling. Remaining positive is often the most important thing you have going for you in an early stage startup.
And, believe it or not, someday you may actually miss the struggle.