Getting Kicked Out of Your First Startup

Communication Is King

Startups move quickly and it’s a “get on board or get out of the way” situation when you’re getting ready to launch. It’s a great environment and I love it, because everyone is under pressure to get to the finish line. But what happens when someone stops responding? To phone calls, to emails, to everything. The machine slows down, can grind to a halt and everyone has to look around and ask “what now?” Keeping some stream of communication open is very important, whether it’s a Gmail thread, IM, Google Hangout or GitHub Repo. Keep reminding people you’re there, or they’ll forget about you and what you bring to the table.

Set Roles and Expectations Early

What aspects of the startup are you going to be working on? Knowing a clear role is important so you can be working toward a particular goal. Knowing what’s expected of you is one of the easiest and hardest things with a startup and dipping your hand into a little bit of everything (even outside of your main role) is never a bad thing. More on that later.

Think Long term, even at the beginning

Where do you see the company in 5 days, weeks, months. Are you still a part of everything? Is your role still the same or has it shifted? Keeping an eye on the horizon can keep you in touch with how to make yourself a more important part of the company. Be pro-active and see what else you can do to help your team make progress. Building a website at the beginning may be crucial, but down the road, it’s may not be as important. That was my particular situation and it makes sense.

Don’t Get Too Attached

There’s a term in business called a “pivot,” which generally means you stop going a certain direction and start going another. It doesn’t have to be a complete 180 degree turn, it could just be 2 degrees, but the bottom line is, things can change. Whether it’s because of market research or trial and error, you’re probably never going to finish with the same idea you started with. Getting attached and moping when your startup takes a new turn is toxic, so make your points and if you get vetoed, let go and move on.

Make Yourself Irreplaceable

There are no allegiances. If you’ve latched on to someone else’s idea, you are the replaceable one. You may have your own grand visions, but it ultimately comes down to the person who had the original idea. They’ll generally be the most passionate and are hopefully the driving force. If you’ve got your hand in all aspects of the company, you’ll be harder to replace. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none is a good thing in startups, because at the beginning your numbers are so few. It’s much easier to stay on board as a Swiss Army Knife than as a spork (the most underrated piece of silverware).

Get Something In Writing

In the beginning everyone still has that twinkle in their eye and is all excited. “Equal division of profits!” can quickly turn into, “I’ve done the most work” which could lead to larger arguments about distribution of income. Easy way to solve that is by getting something in writing at the beginning. And in the end it may still come down to trimming the fat and cutting costs. Having 6 employees is a bigger division of profits than 3 and while I hope that this was not the case, it makes sense and I probably would have looked to do the same.



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John Hartley

John Hartley

Engineering leader with a passion for building and growing teams. Writing mostly about leadership and management in the tech industry. Mentor @ Plato.