Do You Have What It Takes To Work At A Startup?
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Startups are all the rage right now. Their popularity has surged over the last decade, a decade that has seen the meteoric rise of household brands such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Google. Just flip through the pages of any newspaper or business title, and you’ll notice that there’s been quite a shift, with tech titans like Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco having to share space with the likes of Snapchat, Netflix and Uber.
A fair number of successful startups have sprung up in the UAE as well, engaged in a dizzying array of industries. The country ranked 19th worldwide in the Global Entrepreneurship Index Report 2016, ahead of developed nations such as South Korea, Norway and Japan. This reflects the commitment of the UAE leadership to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship in its youth. According to research by ArabNet, over US$750 million was invested in more than 450 tech start-ups in the MENA region between 2013 and 2015. The rise of incubators in the region is also a promising sign of a culture focused on boosting local entrepreneurship.
Working at a startup, or aspiring to work at one, has become a bit of a fad, being perceived as unorthodox. Millennials in particular are gravitating towards them in droves, seeing them as a better alternative to the constrictive, corporate atmosphere that characterized the offices they saw their parents working in, day in and day out, for years. Yet, examples like Facebook are few and far between, and behind every successful founder’s testimony on CNN, or a Bloomberg headline announcing the acquisition of yet another startup that struck gold, is a story of perseverance, struggle, teamwork, learning and sacrifice.
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Needs and priorities have changed over the years, with the current generation more inclined to work at an outfit that values personal time and is in tune with their own aspirations. Financial reward alone isn’t a motivating factor anymore, especially with the new crop of university graduates, who aren’t willing to go through what their parents and grandparents endured for decades. Startups have long been associated with a hierarchy-light atmosphere, where almost every day is Casual Thursday. This laissez-faire approach has enticed many to forego a more conventional career trajectory and to try something that’s widely viewed as out-of-the-box.
But does everyone have what it takes to join a startup? While the pros of working for one seem alluring, the work involved might not be everyone’s cup of tea. A candidate could seem attractive on paper, with the requisite experience, qualifications and recommendations. But when it comes down to it, does everyone have the right mindset and attitude to thrive (and survive) in a dynamic and fast-paced environment, where there’s no telling what tomorrow might hold? Entrepreneurs have realized that a culturally fit team has far better chances for sustenance in the long run.
Since startups start off as extremely small in size, there’s no limit to what might be demanded of a potential employee. Ultimately, you’ll end up wearing several hats and expected to go above and beyond what you believe is fair. With success highly dependent on everyone involved, excellence and the drive to go the extra mile is required from day one itself, and if you’re not adding value, you’re not in the right place.
There must be a willingness to embrace change from the very start. This, perhaps, is the greatest defining feature of a startup. Unlike long-established firms steeped in protocol and red tape, startups are constantly in flux. There are no set processes, or a corporate bureaucracy to speak of– at least not initially. When you join a startup, you’ll see this firsthand and will be expected to adapt accordingly. Roles, functions and expectations can fluctuate like the weather and one needs to be equally adept at keeping pace with the change.
Startups are, by definition, categorically different from established companies. They are inherently experimental in nature and in search of creative thinkers who can pursue new ideas, execute them to fruition, go back to the drawing board if they fail, and come up with new ones over and over again. They cast their nets for the risk-takers, problem-solvers, dreamers and visionaries. This is reflected in the working atmosphere of the startup. If you’ve come from a corporation, you need to be open to experimenting with new things for the first time, and listening to ideas you may never have come across before– even those that might be contrary to your own.
Time is everything at an organization that is just starting off and still on its training wheels. The standard 9–5 routine doesn’t apply at your average startup. You might not have anyone looking over your shoulder, making sure you clock in at 9 a.m. sharp, but chances are that you’ll have to pull an all-nighter if the situation calls for it. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you come in after lunch or work at a café– as long as results are delivered.
Your business card may read “manager,” but it will not tell the whole story. Your actual role will end up encompassing several functions. From this perspective, working at a startup is an invaluable experience. It provides a huge platform for practical hands-on multidimensional learning that is far more invaluable than any theoretical curriculum. You will be exposed to all aspects of the business and will have the opportunity to work with the brightest minds in the industry. Most importantly, you will be able to assimilate new skills and expand your boundaries by assuming more responsibilities. Nowhere else is such multitasking and transparency strongly embraced– and expected.
Startups and startup culture are representative of a new age, with more and more springing up every day, all over the world. Though they may be far smaller in size, informal and nimble, compared to their larger counterparts, they demand far more, with every employee ultimately responsible for success or failure. Experience and qualifications may look appealing on a resume, but what is really prized above everything else are a person’s drive, adaptability and creativity– in the end, these qualities are what count and can make or break a startup.