To say that the past few years of working in a start-up environment has been exhilarating would be an understatement! There have been ups and downs, some good decisions and some which make us cringe when we think back – but if someone were to ask if we regret this move, then the answer is clear – “Not a chance!”. One of the perks of our job is the opportunity to interact with excellent senior leaders in different verticals as part of the leadership workshops that we do – and we have come away richer from each such intervention! One of the other aspects which we enjoy is the opportunity to have conversations with people who have undertaken similar journeys as ours and learn from their stories. However these days, we are also getting to meet people who are poised to take a leap of faith into starting something of their own and want to connect to seek our counsel. While the conversations differ (and we are nowhere qualified enough to advise some of these industry stalwarts), there are still some aspects of our journey which have translated into useful leadership lessons for us, which we do share with them. We hope some of these would be useful for others venturing into a similar, unfamiliar territory.
- Humility –
If you don’t have it, life in a start-up can a harsh teacher. Gone are the days when the visiting card of your well known employer would get you client meetings at fancy restaurants and frequent flier miles. You need to be thick skinned to smile when a client looks at your visiting card and then goes onto pronounce your company name wrong 3 times in the meeting that follows! You also need more of the same when you call vendors and they don’t respond to your calls (we initially thought they were inefficient, till it hit us that we were too small for our business to matter to them!). Yet, it also taught us some great lessons on what not to do when we scale as an organization. We heard from a CEO who said, that every week, he would identify the least glamourous job in the company and make it a point to put in an hour or so doing that.
We now see the point that he was making! Our work involves delivering workshops for corporate clients, and lot of the work that needs to be put in before the actual delivery of a workshop is unglamorous, often repetitive and doesn’t give you the high that a great workshop does. Yet, we realise that ensuring the exact alignment of chairs in a conference room to getting the tea break timings spot on are equally important in every single workshop.
- Passion –
There are times when life in a start-up can be scary. Are we burning through cash without enough revenues? Do we have enough money in the bank account to pay team salaries? One things that keeps us going through those dark patches is pure passion and belief in our work.There will always be naysayers who try to put you down, but passion builds optimism too.
And there are days when you get through to fight another day just on pure passion. We have heard many a client confess post a successful workshop that the X Factor which attracted them to us was the passion which we showed for our work. So if you do not believe 100% in what you are doing, think deep and hard – you are likely to burn out quickly.
- External Orientation –Source: Pixabay
During the initial months, we used to meet a lot of people, some of them who seemed to have no prospect of turning into a client ever! Yet, we continued to meet them – and came out richer from that experience. One of the lessons that we emphasize in innovation workshops is to look outside for ideas and learn from different industries. You never know where good ideas might come from. Being externally focussed also involves meeting as many prospective clients and diverse set of individuals that you possibly can – it also broadens your perspective as a leader. While on a holiday with my wife in Fiji, I happened to do a native village visit as part of the tourist itinerary and was pleasantly surprised to see our picnic pictures being displayed on a giant screen outside our bus when we returned. I was impressed by how they managed to turn that around in a small village with hardly any electricity let alone internet. One conversation led to another, and before long we managed to get a solution for a similar photo upload problem that we were grappling with. So we continue to meet interesting people – be it someone who makes sculptures from electronic waste to someone who runs a toy store!
- Spend time on values and culture –
Start-up cultures have acquired a cult status and working in a start-up environment is considered a cool thing to talk about.
Many start-ups seem to get stuck in the stereotype of pierced nose rings being “allowed” and flexible working hours. People don’t work at a start-up because of that – for sure they would enjoy some of those things – but they quit a safer and many a times more well-paying job to work with your company because they trust you, the leaders of the firm. It is something we have always kept in the back of our mind when we make decisions –“Are we still living up-to the trust that the team has placed in us?” A strong culture starts from hiring people who share the same values to putting in rituals that slowly start to feel just right! One of those that have worked for us has been to celebrate often – this is one accounting header that the finance guys grumble about at the end of the financial year – are we spending too much on celebrations? We celebrate often, sometimes for milestones we have crossed as a company, sometimes for personal milestones, sometimes for things that might seem silly to an outsider – but each of these, we believe has contributed a teeny weeny bit into building the DNA of what makes out culture. And yes, we have no plans to cut down on that accounting header.
What are some of the tips and tricks that you have picked up in your journey at a startup? Do join the conversation…