Getting Stung – a Painful Startup Experience
Getting stung – a Painful Startup Experience
This one is still a bit of a sore spot. Well maybe not a sore spot – but it certainly stays fresh in my mind and I think about it a lot.
My previous employment was my first dance with a startup and after looking so promising up front, it turned into quite a disaster and a big disappointment (both for me and for them).
Where it went wrong was some combination of the role and the fit.
Before starting for them, I had met the CEO at a speaker event, introduced myself and expressed my interests for digital tech, mobile apps, and social networking (all of which they were involved in at the time), and seemed to hit it off with the CEO. The courtship (the period of talking, emails, meeting the team and interviews etc.) was quite short but seemed to go very well and I quickly landed a job and started.
In retrospect I think I didn’t spend quite enough time figuring them out, exactly what they did, what they wanted to do next, and more importantly what they wanted me to do. The truth was that they didn’t really know either. My role was never properly established or laid out. I did a lot of everything, with great enthusiasm to start with – but it wasn’t clear at all where my place was. I know the well-worn startup community phrase that you need to be a “self-starter” and “well motivated” in this game. And I am, I wouldn’t have gotten this far without being either and certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog! But I do need to know what I’m supposed to be doing, what part of the business and product I own and what I am responsible for delivering, and that just wasn’t there. My role swapped and changed a few times, and at the same time so did a lot of the business focus. At the time I originally approached them, the business still had a number of consumer mobile apps in the marketplace (something I was very interested in), but after joining these quickly went out the window and it was clear that I was on a ship that was headed elsewhere.
The experience was good in many ways, and I did some great work whilst there. But the role and direction was never quite there and I struggled to work effectively with that. I don’t think I was a great fit for them, nor them for me. Towards the end I was thoroughly dis-enthused and ready to leave. Not an ideal year in the life of a young aspiring entrepreneur, but a valuable battle scar of a different kind and something that I’ve learnt a lot from.
What I’d pass on from that experience is that that courtship period, all the taking, emails, research, interviews etc. upfront before you take the job and join the startup team – it’s crucial. Make sure you thoroughly understand what you’re going in there to do, what they expect of you, where the company is going, where you’ll get your leadership from, and that it fits with what you want. That company might be doing incredible things and look super exciting from the outside; but if there’s no clear role for you or the fit isn’t right, it certainly won’t be any fun on the inside.