Do You Have What it Takes to Be in a Start-up?

There are not many things in life in which I can call myself an expert, but when it comes to start-ups I think I have experienced most, if not all scenarios. Whether it was the boot strapped company with three guys in a garage and no cash or the angel/venture-funded company in true office space, I have seen it all. Which leads me to the subject of this blog post. Do you have what it takes to be in a start-up?

Start-ups are different that is for sure, and those who succeed in them are cut from a different cloth than people who work in corporate America or established companies. Why is that you ask? I wish there was a simple answer, but to be honest there is not. I have seen senior executives who have had star-studded careers enter the world of a start-up and fall flat on their faces.  It is not uncommon for me to walk into a meeting and hear from the person across the table how jealous they are that I get to work in the start-up world and how every day is a new adventure. I often sit back and think, does that person really know what they are asking for? Do they have what it takes to be in a start-up?

So instead of just thinking it I decided to blog about it and layout the key traits/characteristics you need to have in order to succeed in a start-up.

1)   Check your Ego at the door! Whatever your title was before you joined the start-up and no matter what your business card says, at start-ups it just doesn’t matter. The support systems and infrastructure of your past life don’t exist and everyone needs to be self-sufficient, so while the founder may have given you the VP title, they may as well called you the janitor because hierarchies go right out the window in a start-up.

2)   Keep your glass half-full instead of half-empty. No, I am not referring to your soft drink or coffee mug but your attitude. Life at a start-up requires you to be positive. While not every day will present a challenge, it is important to remember that you are building something from scratch that is going to try your patience no matter how great a product or solution you offer.

3)   Don’t be afraid of failure. If you have never worked in a start-up before, there is a natural fear of failure on your shoulders. When you walk into a start-up, you have to be prepared to face that fear head-on and embrace failure as your teacher. You make assumptions all the time in the start-up world based upon your experiences in the past or your gut instinct, and I promise you will fail as much as you succeed, so embrace it as there is not better way to improve!

4)   Perfection doesn’t exist. This is a tough one for most folks to swallow, but as the world continues to demand instant information and instant access, seeking perfection can be to the detriment of an employee who works in a start-up. I am not saying go out tomorrow and put out a shoddy product or forget to spell check, but the reality is most start-ups are being built or designed based upon assumptions and in reality, how many of those are perfect? I suggest when you walk in the door instead of seeking perfection, you seek collaboration on imperfect ideas and work with your teammates or advisors to get them as close to perfect as possible, and then learn from your mistakes. (See point above)

5)   Go all in. Finally, be prepared to go all-in and no, this does not refer to your poker hand. Entrepreneurs who tend to have an unhealthy work-life balance run start-ups, and if they are good, they also have a relentless desire to succeed. They will expect of you what they expect of themselves, and that is undying commitment and passion to their company. When you are not at work, they will be working, and while they may not say it out loud it is often implied that you should be working as well. If you are not prepared to attempt to meet them at this bar (and no, that is not the local watering hole), take a pause before joining the company as the perceived lack of dedication will rear its head no matter how much effort you think you’re putting in.

So in summary, while I am sure there are many more traits about what it takes to succeed in a start-up, the points above will hopefully help you decide if it is right for you. Being part of building a company, division or product from nothing can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, but it can also be one of the most frustrating and challenging ones if you don’t have the right attitude or mindset.