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5 essential tips for surviving at a start-up

Infamously known for being both parts exhilarating and volatile, start-up life is becoming the business decision of choice for more and more British entrepreneurs. And despite scary statistics of failure and a sea of growing competition, it’s easy to see why.

Working in a start-up is exciting. You’re at the forefront of a budding company’s growth, and get work towards something new: and, often, get to do things you wouldn’t get to do when working in a big company.

In a start-up, you don’t have the same kind of foresight and security you might in a big company. But instead of riding tired clichés like, ‘we’re making something grow,’ working in a start-up is like burying a bean stalk, standing around the spot where you buried it, and then grabbing a branch and riding it to the goddam top. It’s the thrill and rush of realising a vision you collectively had, once in a pub.

My first job was working in a current client’s retail store, and now I run their Ecommerce strategy for paid search. Life is more fun when you are working with people, not for them: and a start-up with the right leader is a great place to find that. Surviving at a start-up however, is no mean feat. Here’s our top tips for holding your own in the start-up jungle, and coming out alive on the other side.

1. Find the right founder

Find an owner whose end goal you agree with, and whose overall philosophy and aims align with yours. This is a tough thing when you are younger, because against a lack of experience, it’s difficult to figure out what you want professionally, and how this may map onto the types of people you’d like to work with.

Go for someone who is determined to do things in the industry differently, and encourages you to be creative. You will be spending a lot of time with this person, lots of work and lots of…not work. Basically, you’re going to have to be friends.

2. Challenge them

Once you’ve found this amazing leader, disagree with them all the time. That’s not to say kick off at every opportunity, but also don’t just go with the flow for the sake of appearing agreeable. Challenge how you achieve the goal; not the goal itself. The aim here is Kaizen: a system of constant improvement. Plus, consistently approaching things in a new way always brings new insights to the table, whilst keeping things fresh.

Make sure you have an opinion, and then make sure it’s heard. You were hired as much for personality (hopefully more) then competence. Hire for attitude; train for skill.

3.Try to think like them

Think bigger than you are. If you didn’t join as the start-up founder, then start to think like them. Eventually you will progress up, and will need to be able to handle making a bigger part of their business your business. Think of yourself as being the one making the big decisions, and eventually you will be.

4.…but don’t kid yourself (or anyone else)

Be honest with yourself and everyone in the company: for example, saying: “I am writing this blog because I was bored with some of the more repetitive tasks I had”. As long as you work on something that benefits the start-up in the end, be it a blog article after a few beers (ahem) or improving your own skills in something, a good boss will support it. You just need to have the minerals to put it to them, and be ready to outline the value when you do: initiative is something that will always be appreciated, no matter where you’re working.

5. Be brave

Finally, be brave and trust in the value of experience. There is a massive thrill in joining something that is, hopefully, growing quickly in its own way.  Nothing will open you up to trial and error and force you to take the initiative than in an environment where you are trusted to get the job done however you see best. You will make mistakes, but learn from them quickly, and it will turn into the most valuable experience of your life.

George Brown is PPC manager at Curated Digital.

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