Your First 12 Months at a Startup: Advice From a Founder

Remitr Team

The Remitr team laughs in an outtake from their photoshoot at the DMZ

Maybe you’re a strong guitarist, but not the most talented singer. Meanwhile, you find a drummer that can also play the bass. What started as a jam session, playing to each others’ strengths, became a band. You collectively become better musicians and start writing your own music. Eventually, you even move out of that garage and start playing in downtown bars.

Startups are like garage bands. From having the creative freedom to increased responsibility, being part of a startup is a unique and rewarding experience. While it has become somewhat glamorized, it comes with challenges that are important to be prepared for.

Why work at a startup

Creative freedom: ‘if you can do it, you can lead it’
Startups are known for having small teams, often referred to as lean, and while this may mean that your workload increases, it also offers creative freedom. Generally speaking, there is a mentality that ‘if you can do it, you can lead it’. You can shape your job description and role simply by raising your hand or offering a solution.

Career development: explore your field
This freedom can be a huge career advantage. As a young graduate, you may not be 100 percent sold on what you studied at university. What does it look like in the real world? Is this what you want to do forever? Joining a startup enables career exploration. There aren’t layers of management to weed through, so if you’d like to help out on a project, simply take the initiative. You’re able to explore the various aspects of your field freely.

Personal development: develop resiliency
This not only applies to career development but personal development as well. You will fail and that’s fine; everyone fails. In a startup, you’re burning your hands constantly. You’re trying things time and time again, trying to find what works. . Oftentimes there are no wrong answers and some solution that’s more correct than another one, may well emerge as the winning formula. However, failure will not only make you a seasoned professional with hands-on learning but a resilient individual.

After the tenth time, something goes wrong, you’ll be that much stronger. If you join a healthy startup, you’ll see the commitment and conviction of founders and the team will hold onto each other – celebrating success together and taking failure in collective stride. As a result, you’ll become a problem solver, think outside the box, and build your ability to find creative solutions to problems, solutions that have the potential to move the needle significantly

Bonding with your team: connect over the mission
A startup team works shoulder-to-shoulder. You’ll spend your working hours collaborating with the same few people. If the company hires based on mission alignment and what you’re trying to solve for as a company, the team will be a network of like-minded people that have the same agenda.  Startup culture is so important because the emotional connection increases your resolve. You’ll push each other to grow and in return, you’ll create friendships out of understanding.

How to work with a startup

Be comfortable with uncertainty
You’re charting unknown waters. There are going to be a lot of unknowns. Being uncertain will feel more familiar than certainty. It’s not always easy, but embracing ambiguity from the beginning and learning how to thrive in that environment is vital. Oftentimes there will be questions that no one has the answers to, even the founders, but this is what makes a startup so special – you’re finding out together. Trust your founders, your team, and, most importantly, yourself.

Be an expert in self-awareness
Self-awareness and mission-alignment will be your guideposts. You’re not going to be right all of the time, which is why self-awareness is key, from understanding your work style to understanding what kind of learner you are. This will help teach you when to ask for help.

During this process, you will learn a lot about yourself. What kind of personality are you? How do you work best with others? You’ll explore your strengths and weaknesses. After you’ve worn a lot of hats, you’ll find which fits best. You can carve out a niche of skills where you’re a superstar and these skills will be extremely valuable in your future career.

Be independent and a team player
While a healthy startup culture will rally the team together, understand how to structure your work. Let yourself be pushed outside of your comfort zone. At a startup, there is little traditional ‘management’. You’ll need to be a self-starter and know how to manage your time.

There will be days when it feels like a lot; stay motivated. You’re growing. Structuring how you spent your time and proactively checking in with your manager to ensure your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) remain aligned will help you stay on course and feel connected. Know when to ask for help and communicate with your team. Use your team as support and as a pillar of strength. I promise whatever you’re feeling you’re not alone, and reaching out will only help everyone involved.

Growing with a startup

Find your shine.
Self-doubt can be an outcome of all-round rapid development. Focus on the larger goal and your part in it. Ask where you shine. Sometimes we can’t see our own sparkle. Again, with little traditional ‘management’ the standard review process most likely won’t exist the way it does at large, established companies. Ask for the time you need, but be sure to ask for clear feedback. Reflect on your KPIs to make sure that your goals are well aligned with the company. Everyone is low on resources and time is the most important, so be specific where you need support and take ownership of your projects.

Make the most of the time.
There may be frequent spurts of feedback and periods with none at all. Write it down and keep it for later. Time moves FAST in a startup. Make sure that you remember to write down all the lessons you learn because they will be vast. Keep a journal to remember what you did well, what you learned, and to keep the memories.

Some of my closest friends are colleagues from previous startups. At a startup, you’re a large part of a very big mission and you’re in it together. You’ll look back fondly at the experience years later. My co-founder Kanchan is a friend of 30-years. We met at our first job out of university, so while startups are a great place to grow your career, they’re also a great place to build relationships.

About the Author 

Sandeep Sandeep is the co-founder and Chief Business Officer of Remitr, the domestic and cross-border payments platform built specifically for small businesses. He has 30 years of experience in software development with a focus on financial products. With Remitr he is continuing his work to make financial solutions accessible and convenient for entrepreneurs and young organizations. Sandeep is passionate about the scale-up process and often volunteers with organizations.