My first year at a financial startup
November 13, 2019
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There’s a saying that goes something like, “We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.”
Or at least that’s what I read somewhere online once.
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea who actually said that. But it’s a phrase that has stuck with me for several years. And it’s that phrase that I thought of when the opportunity to join the team at Veem came about.
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Every startup is different, but there’s one key common denominator that draws people to work for them: making an impact.
At large corporations, you’re often just a cog in the wheel, and it can be difficult to stand out and get recognition, despite your hard work.
But at startups, where there are smaller teams, your work matters, and you can see its effect on the organization. That can provide a greater sense of ownership as well as motivation for employees at all levels. Because it’s the passion of employees that really fuels any startup; it’s a passion to be a part of something and contribute to making a difference in some way. That’s why, after years of working at large organizations, I leaped at the chance to join the Veem team.
You might be thinking, “That’s nice, but what’s it really like to work at a startup?” Here are a few of my honest takeaways from my first year at Veem.
A need for speed
A fast pace goes hand in hand with any startup. We notoriously have a “do-or-die” attitude – or may be “grow-or-die” is a better way to phrase it. Either way, you’re not going to die…
In fact, if you’re working at a startup where things aren’t moving quickly, it’s most likely a sign that something’s wrong.
The fast pace has a lot to do with the size of the company, the size of your team, and the amount of tools and processes that have been implemented.
The lack of corporate red tape means startups can change and adapt quickly, and if there’s one thing you can count on it’s that there will be lots of change while working at a startup. Organizational structures, strategies, and job titles can frequently change while new companies figure out what works best. The pace can take a bit of an adjustment if you’re coming from a large company where there are processes for processes.
The upside to all this change is that startups aren’t tied to any particular status quo. So, if you have a new idea that you think could benefit the company, don’t be shy about bringing it forward. That’s been, hands down, one of my favorite aspects about working at Veem. In a few minutes, I can Slack my CEO and ask him his opinion and, sure enough, he gets back to me.
As a writer, I’ve been able to pitch content ideas and formats that are a bit outside the box. Startups like Veem aren’t afraid to experiment with new ideas and projects to see what may work. That’s a quality you likely won’t find at even the most “innovative” corporations. The status quo works for them, so straying from it just doesn’t make sense. At a startup, you’re still figuring things out. We’re all working in a sandbox, so why not make a castle?
Foosball tables, slides instead of stairs, and catered lunches. That’s what many people picture when they think about startup culture.
The more accurate attributes would be inclusive, dedicated, open-minded, supportive, and, of course, fun. But, we do have a foosball table.
To start, you can forget about having to wear a suit to work every day. Startups have a less stuffy atmosphere compared to larger, established companies. I personally enjoy a business-casual look, but t-shirts and hoodies might as well be high-fashion at a startup.
There’s also a heightened camaraderie among coworkers – you’ll laugh together, you’ll problem-solve together, and you’ll probably drink beer together. You’re all driven by the same desire to find creative new ways to push the envelope. So, while the work may be demanding at times, the atmosphere is engaging, collaborative, and open. Basically, it’s the polar opposite of sitting alone in a cubicle in front of a computer screen, day in and day out.
As a former full-time freelancer, trust me, I know.
Exceptional learning experience
At large organizations, you’re hired for a dedicated position and are expected to perform specific tasks within that role. You may not even have the growth opportunities you were hoping for.
That’s not how things work at a startup, which was one of the first things I learned early on at Veem.
At a startup, where there’s a smaller team and changing processes, you’re not just a writer, or a PR coordinator, or a project manager. Sure, your LinkedIn profile might say that, but first and foremost, you’re a team member. That means there’s a good chance (as in 100% will happen) that at some point you’ll be asked to do something you’ve never done before, which may be outside of your skillset comfort zone. But don’t look at the situation as a burden or frustration. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Something to add to your resume, or a transferable skill to leverage later.
Tackling different tasks and projects is a fantastic way to learn about various facets of the business, and, who knows, maybe even discover other areas that you want to pursue. It doesn’t mean you’ll become a “jack of all trades and a master of none;” you’ll still be able to shine in your main position. But it does mean you’ll get a phenomenal learning experience that will benefit you (and your CV) in the long run. It’s also one of the unique qualities of working at a startup that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at established firms.
More responsibilities and more recognition
In the corporate world, there’s a common complaint that people feel “trapped” and “siloed” into one role.
Working at a startup, you’re anything but siloed. A more likely situation at a startup is that you might have three different areas of responsibility in your role, which, at an established company, would be handled by three different people. No matter the position you’re in, you can expect to have more responsibilities at a startup than you would at a big company.
Having this extra responsibility goes a long way toward having a sense of ownership over your work, and that work has a direct connection to the company’s success. It’s also pretty darn motivating.
The other good news is that at startups, the hard work that you put into tackling all those responsibilities won’t go unnoticed. You do a good job, and you get recognized – something that doesn’t happen as often in the corporate world. Working in a setting where you’re recognized for your efforts isn’t just beneficial for your career; it can also have positive impacts on your well-being and worth ethic.
I was at Veem for all of three days when I got my first “great job” shout out. Not only did that recognition instantly make me feel valued (and welcomed), it made me want to work even harder. Never underestimate the impact a simple kudos can have.
The bottom line: it’s exciting
Everyone wants a reason to get up in the morning.
When I worked in the corporate world, I found that, more often than not, the daily, monotonous grind made me want to crawl back under the covers and ignore the day ahead. I was often uninspired by my work. Working at a startup, though, is far from dull.
I’ve been at Veem for more than a year, and I can’t say that I’ve been bored once. Part of that is because things have moved fast. There’s always something going on that helps keep things fresh and interesting – like welcoming new team members, launching a new project, or celebrating a business partnership.
The best part is that, in Veem’s case, all of the team members share the same sense of excitement. It’s an excitement to work together, to innovate, and to make a difference. The entrepreneurial spirit is contagious and that makes getting up in the morning for work all the easier.
As with almost everything, working at a startup isn’t going to be for everyone. For some, the idea of extra responsibility and a fast pace will trigger the urge to curl up in a corner. For others, it’s a challenge that provides motivation and an ideal learning opportunity that will empower their future endeavors.
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