Unofficial guide for people working in a startup

Kathy Sierra’s post on a user-focussed employee guide for the big companies (my analysis here) made me think the same about the start-ups like Tekriti. And, as I was organizing the thoughts in my mind, I came up with some points other than those necessary for a user-focussed employee. Here is a beginning and I am hopeful of being able to add to this list, as needed: (This is more relevant for a software company but can be easily tweaked for the other industries, as well)

Technical:

  1. Be a developer and not a programmer:
  2. I have blogged this earlier. You need to do things other than just write code. You don’t have to be necessarily super-smart in one but it is more important to focus on the breadth.

  3. Be ready to work on multiple languages / technologies: The idea is to use the right weapon for the right tasks. There is a popular saying in English – “Don’t use a sword when a needle is enough” and also the other way. So, speed and ease of development is the most important thing in deciding what technology is to be used in a particular product but be ready to switch to a new one if the situation demands that. The idea is not to master a technology / language (that is always a by-product) but to master the domain and concepts.

Behavioral:

  1. Be ambitious: Oh please, if you are not ambitious, don’t even think of joining a start-up. That is a place for a bunch of people who are working there to change the way things work and not just do the stereo-typed work like most of the big companies do. You need to be able to think of doing stuff which is a bit beyond your limits and capabilities. Believe me – you will end up surprising yourself to know that your capabilities are much higher than you think.
  2. Be passionate and a risk taker: I don’t need to elaborate on this. If you are not passionate about the stuff you are doing, you will never come up with the world class products. And, of course, a start-up by definition is riskier than the ‘normal jobs’. To add to that, I don’t even think that joining a startup is that much of a risk now.
  3. Be a go-getter: It does not take much to know that if you are joining a start-up, the infra-structure will not really be world-class. Of course, you can / should provide feedback about the need of certain things – but always keep in mind that not all can be provided because of the fact that they won’t exactly have the cash reserves of the order that a big company has. But – the more important thing is that the cash is not the only thing that restricts a startup to have a certain facility. More than often, it is the bandwidth of the co-founders which is an issue. So, pull up your socks and implement the functionalities yourself. Don’t just wait for everything to be done by the co-founders, know that they are already always over-burdened with work.

Customer Focus:

  1. Think about your users – Please, please, please! Start dreaming about your potential users. Whatever actions / decisions you make – always ask yourself – how is that going to benefit your customers. Unless you can make the customers’s life easy, you cannot sell your product.
  2. Dogfood your product – Oh yes, big time! Always be the first users of your product. Unless you dogfood your product and experience the pain, you will never be able to take corrective actions.
  3. Show the road-map of your product to your users – so they know what to expect in the future. That will keep them curious and keep coming back to your product. The other good thing about this is that you don’t have to wait to ‘ship’ a product until it is totally ‘stable’ and ‘done’. Remember that this is a different than the conventional approach – but keep providing new features periodically besides stabilizing the system.

Company Culture:

  1. Help define it: A small company is always in its infancy when it comes to the company culture. There is almost always a scope for improving / changing things there – think what is that you will love to have at your work-place. And once you have thought of that – discuss it with people and own implementing it then. If you have come up with an idea, there probably is nobody who can implement that better. Again, owning the implementation is important! The power of being able to define the culture at my work-place according to the way I want it to be is the single most important thing that keeps me (personally) motivated.
  2. Helping others and building relations: Always remember one thing – a small company does not implement all that corporate stuff that a big company is known for. So, it is necessary to bond really well with your colleagues – not just for work but also outside it. The idea of working in a small company is to be able to change the world, to change the way things are done conventionally. And, it is really important to be absolutely comfortable in the group where everybody is working for the same.