Why I joined Rob & Craig (the founders of Yapster)
I have a separate blog on why you might want to go work for a startup and what the trade-offs are when you take that path versus a more traditional employment route. So with that in mind I won’t cover off the motivations, but once you’ve decided you want to work in startups, whether as a long-term career role, or as a stepping stone towards your own startup – I think it’s key to find the right startup, the right team and the fit for you. If, like me, you have objectives and want to gain X amount of experience and a set of skills to help equip you for success on your own at a later stage in life, then you don’t want to get it wrong Get these kind of decisions and moves wrong and you might well find yourself wasting 1-2 years in a startup which isn’t the right fit, isn’t satisfying you, and ultimately isn’t helping you to achieve your goals. I did that, and I got stung. You can read about it in a dedicated blog I’m currently writing.
So, enter Rob and Craig!
I actually came to hear about Yapster, and the two co-founders Rob and Craig, through a tech recruiter I was working with. I didn’t expect to find a way into such an early stage startup via a recruiter but there you go! Rob himself is an ex-lawyer. Having worked in corporate law for a career during his 20’s, he then went into enterprise sales, before starting Yapster, where he is now CEO. Craig is a hard-core back-end developer by trade. A Cambridge computer science graduate with 20+ years experience in the industry, Craig actually built some of the first data visualisations of London’s “Tech City” cluster. These were then used by David Cameron during his campaigns to help promote and launch the London Tech City initiatives.
As a team and set of credentials, these two impressed me. What is particularly strong about their collaboration is the strength of Rob’s sales and business acumen, matched against Craig’s formidable technology capabilities.
It’s often written that non-tech founders should look to partner with a strong tech co-founder – in both directions, Rob and Craig appear to have hit the ball out of the park here.
What I really enjoyed during our first meetings (“courting for startup team members”), was their openness and outlook on life and the business. Myself and Rob spent a lot of time exploring our own motivations and ambitions and both Rob and Craig were upfront and articulate about their hopes for the business, the immense learning experience on offer for the role, and their ask for the person they would hire. This was incredibly valuable.
The product vision.
It’s so obvious, and everyone has the right intentions on this one – but you really do have to believe in the product or service you are building and want to commit yourself to it’s success. In a startup, you are signing yourself up to invest so much of your time, effort, lifestyle and years of your career, that to do it half-hearted or get into bed with a startup which you don’t quite believe in – well that’s a huge waste of your time and everyone else’s. Get real with this stuff – it’s your life and you should be sure you’re spending it working on things you believe in, and things that will pay you back in the long run.
What I saw.
Quite frankly, I saw a great team, an inspiring CEO I could get along with, share my ideas and insights with, a CTO I could admire and learn a huge deal from, and a product I could believe in and actively wanted to own and improve. These things came together as a package – an opportunity for me to take the next step in the career I wanted and really lift my game. I had other opportunities and job offers at the time, and took a significant pay drop to take the Yapster role instead, but I knew what I actually wanted and where the really valuable job opportunity was. It was a no-brainer really.
This is key, and I’ll explore it more in my separate blog about working for startups and how I got stung in my previous startup role. Knowing what your place is in the business, your roles and responsibilities is so, so important. Yes, there is lots of ambiguity in startups and everyone has to pitch in, wear many hats and do a range of tasks they probably didn’t expect – but knowing what it is that you’re coming in to do in the first place, and where you will be adding your value is critical.
This was baked in early for me and was a part of my early discussions with Rob, my CEO. The clarity of knowing what the business needs and how you can fit that – gives you a chance to take responsibility and feel ownership for your part of the business. It also in many ways signposts how you deliver real value to the business, makes you indispensible and protects your job (I didn’t have this in my last role!)
Setting yourself up for success.
A big thing I wanted to get right from the start was knowing what success looked like, both for the CEO’s vision of the business as a whole, and for my role. If you don’t know that when you first arrive, if you don’t have a North Star – then how can you execute properly and make sure you’re on course to make your job (and the business) a success.
I had a number of discussions with Rob (CEO) during our courting period, to try determine what my objectives were and what a high value and positive impact on the business would look like for me 3 months in for example.
We sketched out my first key goals (KPIs), and agreed a review schedule.
When you join a startup, especially a very early stage one which has a limited funding pot – the founders are understandably trying to quickly build the strongest team possible – if you don’t do the work upfront to equip yourself with the right info and set yourself up for success, you can quickly miss the mark, fall short of what you and the business hoped for your role and find yourself in a precarious position (me, last job!). It’s not like taking traditional employment or a graduate job scheme where you have a known flight path and X number of months on the job training before you become qualified and are expected to take on any real level of responsibility and performance. You need to perform, and quick! Do everything you can to help yourself on this one.
Hybrid and evolving roles.
Last note – while I’ve said all of that about knowing your place, role and responsibility – obviously things change very quickly in a startup and what the business needs might actually be a moving set of goalposts as time goes on. My first role at Yapster is a hybrid of product owner, project manager and business development (supporting the CEO). The hybrid approach is great and suits me well. However I’m well aware that my job spec and title may well change as the business evolves, that’s part of the ride. So long as the work you do is fun, fulfilling, delivers real business value and helps to grow your own skills and objectives, just go with it and soak up every opportunity!