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What's it like to work for a startup?
"Everything starts out looking like a toy" (No. 16)
This week’s toy: a new version of Mario Kart that is a real life RC car. It turns out that cats don’t like it much. Imagine what “Mario: Grocery Cart” could look like. Edition No. 16 of this newsletter is here - it’s October 17, 2020.
The Big Idea
Patrick McKenzie’s excellent article “What Working at Stripe Has Been Like” has spurred my brain this week into thinking about the difference between working for a “regular” company and a startup, and the relative changes needed in perspective to enjoy that challenge.
Some days, it feels like this. But those of us who work in startups - generally described at the beginning as “an uncertain approach to an uncertain product for an uncertain customer” and then later as “do more than you think you can do again for a sustained period of time, and then compound your growth” - it’s hard not to work in a startup.
Photo by Matthew Brodeur on Unsplash
What qualities help you enjoy a startup?
It’s tempting to think that speed is the only quality that high growth companies need. Build that thing, faster! In reality, you need to be able to slow down to speed up. What do I mean by that? If you can break down a process or concept in a way that anyone will understand, you probably understand it well enough to optimize it and will enjoy the challenge of trying to scale it. If you’re in over your head and don’t know how to ask for help, speeding up the process may feel more like drowning.
It sounds simple, and it works. Almost any process will feel more accomplished, more completed, and work better if you take a blank piece of paper, write at the top what you want to get done, and explain it in simple terms that do not depend upon other acquired knowledge. Bonus points: you just created enablement content for other people to learn about the thing you’re working on! Now refactor it every time things change in your business and you’re starting to get the idea of what startup life is like.
What to ignore, and what to prioritize
The other quality that you need to enjoy working in a startup is to learn quickly what is important. You will never have enough resources to grow at the rate you want to grow, except by focus and innovation. Focus doesn’t always mean extreme focus on everything, and it does mean devoting focused time to the things that are important. One way to do this is to write down your most important tasks (not a laundry list, but the most important tasks) every day. As your rate of getting these tasks done increases, your ability to create more value and get more independent work goes up.
And how do you innovate? By continually learning new things. When you meet new people at your company and you’re discussing the way they get things done, ask them if they have any great tips for productivity or for process. We tend to get locked into our own methods for creating value and it’s always refreshing to learn how other people approach problems.
Also, make sure that you know what you value, and know how to say no. This last bit can be hard and is essential in creating your own space that you grow.
What’s the takeaway? Start by starting, and learn by learning. Surviving and thriving in companies that are in hypergrowth mode is easier when you learn, and then master, the small stuff. You also will enjoy it more when you build systems that continually force you to improve.
We’d like to know …
It’s that time. Time to exercise your civic duty by voting, especially if you’re American and you have the right to #Vote. How are you doing it this time?
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Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ 🍕 for 👻 kitchens - It was probably inevitable that the techniques of digital advertising would arrive in brick and mortar consumer services. Slice is reimagining pizza by bringing branding as a service to your local shop. This feels like the physical equivalent of those Instagram ads for businesses that feel familiar, yet don’t exist.
2/ GPT3 chat - Will it tell jokes, or just robotically repeat the best way to reset your password? AI-Powered Chat is coming to a website near you. For my money, this will be much more valuable if it can instantly detect frustrated website searchers and redirect to someone who can handle their problem.
3/ What does a vacuum leak *sound* like? - If you have ever listed to the Classic NPR Series Car Talk, you’ve heard the funny ways people describe the noises their cars make and how mechanics use that description to diagnose problems. Now, there is an app that can do this for you!
On the Reading/Watching List
Time travel is one of my guilty pleasures in fiction. I’m excited to start reading Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. At first glance, it seems a bit like Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, where a man encounters copies of himself. Fun!
I’m pretty sure that Doctor Who could solve any problems that we’ve seen in 2020, so I’ve started to watch the David Tennant episodes - you can watch on HBOMax as well. These are gloriously cheesy yet also compelling, sort of the like the Tabloid News version of Star Trek.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon