Experiences & Lessons Taken From Working At An Early Startup

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How I wish I documented my feelings and thoughts when I was still working at a job I could not wait to quit. That would’ve been interesting to look back on.

Back in earlier days, I would call myself a “”�‍♀️ (‘someone who works briefly in one position after another rather than staying at any one job or organisation long-term’) . I have always been eager to try out different jobs to see how well I fit there, to what extent the tasks and responsibilities interest me, whether they’ll bring me forward. It’s a never-ending process of trial and error🏗️. I have never been scared of encountering financial insecurity, or to take chances and risks with long breaks in-between jobs. I simply love trying out new things more than having a stable income.

Until I was 25, the only full-time gigs I had were internships which would automatically come to an end after around five or six months. After that, you’re free to move and start over at a different place. Unless you without a doubt want to stay at the place where you interned and they want to hire you as well. (Spoiler: neither of these situations were applicable to me). There were many part-time and also some freelance jobs. The idea of giving up my freedom to work at a 9–5 scared me to death, so I postponed until I no longer could.

I planned a small break to take time for myself (I calculated in 3 months of unemployment and living off my savings). My job search did not go as planned🙀. As I went past the three-month mark, my bank account was reaching its limits and started to get dangerously empty💱. I was weeks away from being broke and losing my accommodation (the month before I started at this gig I was literally unable to pay my rent on time, and it wasn’t the first month). I was turning every penny twice, trying to save money on whatever I could. This resulted in just eating crackers on some days, all for the sake of stretching out the little money I had left a bit further🤷.

Then came along an opportunity and I took it. (Not only out of pure hard necessity, but for the prospects it offered. Or so I thought.) A fresh startup, who acclaimed to be moving to the top and beyond. And I was invited for the ride🎢.

So how was the work?

The ride went fast. I quickly learned that a small start up requires you to work your a$s off. Or at least, that was the case at this one. The first two months were intense. So were all months after that😵.

I felt responsible and took responsibility and did my best to finish off the work in time (even though it was impossible due to a constant stream of work input together with a chronically understaffed team). My loyalty was milked out or silently approved. That I was close to reaching burn-out point didn’t matter⚰️. Just continue and your hard work is always rewarded. Right?

What was the reward?

Ehm. Besides money🤔?

I gave it my all for the whole ride. Always trying to do more than expected. Showing willingness to help out at whatever task I was asked to do, train new people, sure, with pleasure! Whatever. But the work however was never done. All I did was drain myself for nearly a year and putting the company first👩‍💼. I did get drilled, but that is about it. The prospects were professional growth via company trainings. This was a promise and not captured black on white in my contract, so of course no one bothered🙈. The trainings I got would take place on irregular occasions and only scratch the surface. Or someone would tell me to go do this and that, leave me to it, two minutes later I’d be done, and that was it. The gains were minimal. Not worth the effort. It took me some extra months to lose faith in what was promised. I stayed hopeful and positive, even though deep down I knew that it was crap and just not going to happen😃.

Despite the very mediocre wage, I managed to save up💸 anything I didn’t spend on the absolute basics, such as food, rent, utilities and any incoming bills. After the first two months I had already reached my limits and wanted to jump ship. Instead, I decided to build up a new buffer for another worst-case scenario. This time, I saved enough money to be independent for the generous period of half a year🏖️. We could call it six months, but then it sounds more time-restricted again..

Anyway. Still being more than fed up, I finally decided to just resign👋. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, despite not having anything new lined up.

At this time, I was taking a risk. I had some applications running, but nothing official or confirmed yet. Luckily, a new opportunity arose. The starting date of the new gig fit seamlessly, bridging the gap between the old and the new job perfectly. It was in a different field, one I was already familiar with. This might have been luck, and at this time, I couldn’t be happier. The new gig was cosy, it didn’t suck the life out of me, I got lucky with my colleagues and team again, so it all worked out.

📖 Hard lessons learned 📖

When skimming over this period of my life in particular, I learned some important things that will stay with me for good:

  • At your job or whatever project, you get paid to deliver work. What is delivered is written out in a formal agreement, usually being your work contract. Make sure to have any benefits you discussed also written down in your contract before the work starts📝. Do NOT rely on just a spoken agreement. You’ll have nothing to negotiate with. After all, it’s not in the contract, therefore, it doesn’t exist.
  • 🕑Discuss overtime beforehand, decide what is acceptable for you and have the outcome eternalised in a contract. See above. Do NOT allow your personal life to be destroyed by some company’s insane hours and unhealthy work ethic. Just don’t. If you don’t want to do overtime, ever, f%ck it, then don’t do it. NO job should interfere with your own life. You are hired somewhere to work, and not to live there.
  • Work for yourself👩‍💻, not for someone else, doesn’t matter whether you’re working at a corporation as a tiny link in the bigger chain or wearing 30 different hats at a newly established startup. Yes, you work to pay for your stuff like rent, or burn your money on fancy diners and 100 new iPhones by choice, so you need to do what is expected and deliver. But not at all cost. Your health and sanity first⚕️.

Okay, what else?

If you’re somewhat ambitious, you probably want to gain more than ‘just’ money from your job. Think about which goals you want to achieve in this position or while working on this project🤔. Make sure you are learning something new, each and every single day🎓.

Do not just be a slave to the rules. Think for yourself, and try to have the company support you in your learning👨‍🏫. If they don’t really support you in your development, you won’t be learning, but stagnating, and eventually wasting your time there. You’ll have a hard time transitioning from this job to a future one. Your new employer (that is, if you plan to work as an employee) will and should ask you what you have learned at your previous position. You’d better have an answer ready! No one is waiting for a lazy sack who doesn’t want to develop themselves together with a new employer. Again, if they don’t seem to care about your development, f&ck them, find a different place to spend your time at. What is there to gain for you? You can get money anywhere, but you can’t get your time back❗.

🕵🏻Expose yourself to new environments inside a company, learn new things, pick up on skills and opportunities you’d otherwise not get the chance to explore🕵🏻. Take full profit from the situation.

Guide your own career and see and the whole as a learning opportunity📙. Spend the time well, don’t get lured in by false promises.

If this was helpful, you’re welcome. If not, I felt the need to share this either way.

Take care of yourself first, always, and never stop developing yourself🧠!📚 ❤

Written by

Writing my way to progress. Topics: personal growth, life lessons, tooling & (failed) ventures.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store