“I’ll just stay another year, it’ll get better.”
It took me about three years to leave my corporate job and get involved with my startup community. Looking back on it now, it was three years too long. Like many, for years I would make a “pros” and “cons” list for staying at my corporate job. The typical, steady paycheck, good benefits made the “pros” list while the usual, I hate wearing suits, working 9-5 turns into working 8-7 during busy season and I want to be my own boss took over the “cons” section. Then one day, while on vacation reading Tim Ferris’ “The 4-Hour Work Week” I asked myself the question I asked myself while sitting at my desk everyday, what was I doing with my life? But this time my thoughts lingered for a few more minutes, what was I really doing with my life?
I found myself in a position where I had mastered many tasks and concepts, taken on new responsibilities, implemented new processes and developed myself as a leader in my area of specialization. I had learned a lot about the industry and about myself. With that, I had learned, about six months in, that the industry was not one which I would see myself forming a career in. Now, three years in I realized enough was enough and that following Monday I turned in my two weeks notice. I remember the next morning waking up still in disbelief of what I had done. I felt daring yet scared, proud yet hesitant, but comforted myself in knowing that I had already obtained a position with a new startup.
St. Louis has a startup community?
My interest in entrepreneurship began after spending a summer in Palo Alto, visiting tech companies, sitting in coffee shops eavesdropping on conversations about the latest app launch and attending innovation events in the area. I was immediately sucked into the atmosphere and knew that it was the type of community I wanted to be a part of. After my summer away I returned home and made it my mission to squeeze as much startup knowledge out of the St. Louis community as I could. Much to my surprise in early 2013, the St. Louis startup community had revved-up and I soon began to stalk all the startups, incubators and accelerators to learn more and cheer on the developments coming out of St. Louis.
But I’m not “innovative or entrepreneurial”
Of course at this point I didn’t even imagine myself becoming involved in the community because of my lack of experience in what I thought were required entrepreneurial traits like, being innovative, knowing how to code, and pitching ideas like it was my job. But now that I work at startup I realize how the skills I learned at my corporate job are applied every day. Startups are young businesses, like any business they require marketing, HR, accounting, finance and IT departments in order to run smoothly. The only difference is that startups probably have one person in charge of all those departments. Many may see find this overwhelming, but in reality it’s a chance for one to develop skills they never thought they possessed.
What will my “job” be?
I am currently a Strategic Marketing Manager, something I would NEVER in a million years thought I would be good at or pursue. Yet many of my experiences in my past life, managing accounts, analyzing data and coming up with creative ways of telling a client's story, have helped me be successful in the role I have now. Being someone to easily get bored with repetitive tasks, having the freedom to work on other aspects of the company such as event planning, website design and basically anything else that needs to be completed, the startup environment is truly something motivating and different everyday. I must confess that if you are one for structure, #STLstartuplife may be a shock seeing that agendas are mostly thrown out the window. Every day brings a new fire to be put out and if you’re lucky a small success that will be celebrated-- it’s amazing how excited I now get to see the open rate response our newsletters receive-- highlight of my Wednesdays.
Do I have the guts for this?
Working for a startup and launching one is hard. Having “Entrepreneur” as a job title may seem glamorous to some but in reality it is more of a lifestyle than a title, and a challenging one at that. You learn lessons everyday on solving problems and making decisions that not only impact your company but can ultimately impact your whole lifestyle.
These past few months I’ve learned a lot about startups and the struggles they face everyday, many of those struggles may dissuade people from joining a startup, but these struggles are what push people to take risks and learn lessons to help them succeed.
Lessons learned… so far.
I’m not one for taking rejection lightly but recently I’ve learned to love it. A rejection means you’ve got something to work on, something that needs fixing and can be improved. Having to fix something takes time and effort but that does not mean that you have to dedicate your whole weekend trying to mend your mistakes. Better yet, sometimes it means that you need to step away from “the problem” and let your brain rest and refresh before tackling it again. It doesn’t benefit anyone if you just lock yourself in a room with your laptop trying to brainstorm solutions until you drive yourself crazy, or get so distracted you end up stalking your cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend on Instagram. It is much more beneficial for the whole team and company to use time effectively to come up with a new solution to an old issue.
Trusting your team is essential for startup teams and entrepreneurs. Although difficult at times since this whole project is new for everyone, being able to confidently provide feedback to team members on ideas, possible improvements, or simply confessing that you “don’t get” what they are saying can move mountains when it comes to final products. I used to be one to “not want to hurt anyone’s feelings” but through my professional experiences quickly learned it’s better to speak up than hurt the whole outcome instead. Most importantly, the quicker your team agrees on a decision and next steps, the faster you can move on to the remaining 100 items on your “to-do” list.
You don’t have to be a workaholic to work at a startup. There are some days when the work day ends at 3 pm and we accomplished everything (that we thought of at the time) that needed to be done; while there are days when we don’t leave until 8pm with about twenty other things still outstanding. It’s a lot about prioritizing and evaluating what is most important to the company but also to you. After all, the company can not work if the employees are losing their minds because they have been living off of coffee and cheez-its for three days straight.
It really is worth it.
The work is literally never-ending. The rejections are limitless. The challenges can seem impossible. But as you sit there asking yourself if you can really do this? You realize it’s all worth it because you are actually seeing something grow. Your curiosity is never satisfied without knowing what will happen tomorrow or next week; but at least you are not asking yourself what if?
Written by Daphne Benzaquen, PluggedIN's Marketing Manager