7 Lessons After 1 Month of Startup Life After Leaving Corporate America
Startup life is hard and magnificent at the same time after leaving corporate America.
Let me repeat, it is HARD and MAGNIFICENT!
And while the quintessential saying of, “if it were easy, everyone would do it” applies, after my first month in startup life there’s some lessons I’m hoping to share with the interested few who are teetering between the though of leaving corporate America and staring entrepreneurial life.
Lesson 1: No Matter What Expertise Level you Have, You are Only 50% Prepared
Insurance, computers, moving furniture, learning about payroll, negotiating cell phone bills, moving more furniture…these are all components that happen in addition to your “day job.”
I was amazed by the number of shared responsibilities that I took for granted with corporate America. Were any of these activities impossible to complete, or my background not full enough to make them happen? No, but it took some guess work and a different side of my brain than the 10 years of marketing had chiseled.
If you have ever felt unprepared for a big meeting or presentation and that pit in your stomach pops in, that’s the feeling of lesson 1. However, the good news is that you are smart enough to make the decisions; if you have a great team surrounding as I do, your best guesses are backed by their history and expertise.
Lesson 2: Being Spread Thin is an Understatement
In startup life, all team members share more burdens: that’s just a fact of the fun. There is rarely a specialist in a startup, yet there is a plethora of “I-know-enough-specialists.”
These are the team members who willingly dive into expanses beyond their roles.
Sales leaders working with the inbound phone company, Marketing Managers in-tune with the financial impacts of each tool, Marketing Specialists who can interchangeably shift into a “sales” mentality, all so that the business keeps moving forward. Everyone in a startup bears heavy shoulders. As a leader, it is 100% crucial that you constantly calibrate priorities. No matter how busy you find yourself, always make sure the team understands priorities and ensure that their work flows into them with precision.
Lesson 3: Be the First to Arrive and the Last to Leave Because People Rely on You
When you have compounding responsibilities, days could get long. And for those I know in startup lifestyles similar to mine, we all rally around the fact that we are constantly working. The business is on your mind from the minute you get up to when you fall back asleep. Your “To-Do” list seems to grow no matter how many hours you put in.
Please note – this is coming from a preacher and practitioner of priorities and working smarter not harder.
Despite this, I find myself enjoying the multiplying stacks of tasks. Why? My team relies on me, our clients rely on me and my partner relies on me. There isn’t another option out there – just do the work! You may challenge this idea which I welcome, however I haven’t found a better practice than to just get it done.
Lesson 4: Keep it Simple
When you are constantly divided amongst responsibilities of being a business owner, an expert, a leader, the fact is that keeping business simple is challenging.
You strive to stay above the specific details of the task because your team is accountable for being experts. This is where the truth comes in hard and heavy. Undeniably, you will always want to help and support your team. That means at times, you must dig into the details of the work…and it’s tempting to get muddled into the complexity of the everyday problem.
After all, if you have been a people leader before you know the old adage of “teach a person to fish” pays off time and time again vs. dictating the step by step instructions.
However, you never want your team to struggle with a problem you have had in the past. The temptation to dance in the details is high. You must fight this temptation and challenge to keep the problem and the solution simple. That does not mean that you sacrifice the correct solution for the sake of simplicity; it means that you must always be clear that no matter how complex the problem or solution, it’s upon you as the entrepreneurial leader to relay how you translate simplicity.
I personally must take a deep breath and imagine if I were to share this problem and solution to a 7th grader, would they be clear? Ask yourself this question the next time a complex problem is solved – are you able to summarize it simply?
Lesson 5: You are the Leader, the Worker, the Assistant, the IT Guy, the Janitor
To my corporate friends out there who may be reading this: find comfort in the chair you sit in, the cubical or walls around you, the phone system that works and the device you are reading this on. You may be slightly distracted by this article, yet when you are done you go back to your expert position.
In your position, you have resources to help you complete various tasks assigned by your boss. In a startup, there isn’t anyone else to do your job… which is freeing and terrifying at the same time.
You must be close to surgical accuracy with how you balance your role with the needs of the business. Daily, I spend three, 30-minute sessions with myself and team to prioritize. This sometimes means that your role shifts from establishing a clear vision for the next year to cleaning up the conference room, all in span of one hour. It takes a particular type of person, one who is more than just an adequate entrepreneur or an ADD-ridden boss, to give their absolute focus every hour of every day.
Lesson 6: Customers are the Only Reason you are Here – Don’t Forget it!
Businesses exist because there is a job to be done and someone is willing to pay for that job. I heard this theory a year ago in one of my leadership training programs. I will do little justice to explain the full meaning, but the short version is that you must always put yourself in the customer’s mind when manufacturing output.
Many companies make the mistake of not following this theory and their products are awful. In a startup, you must strive for excellence in execution with every customer – they are why you have your business in the first place.
Regardless of the situation or customer complaint, take a breath and put yourself in their shoes – are you addressing the job they are paying you for? If the answer is no, you better or you’ll be back reporting to a boss.
Lesson 7: Everyday is Amazingly Wonderful…For Real
This isn’t an eyes-half-open statement. Being appreciative of the experiences at Bluume took me years of searching for my own value. No matter the challenges, the grind, the constant trade-offs, this journey is unbelievably perfect.
This world isn’t for everyone. So before you take your jump into startup life, take these lessons with careful study. My blessings come from a concrete career where I learned much of my life today, from my team who is just as insane as me, from challenging myself to always work hard and never give up.