I was fortunate enough to be part of a highly successful startup, which was later on acquired by a large international firm. This acquisition was the first of its kind in the Middle East and a big step forward in my career and personal life. Although I was not a co-founder or a stakeholder, I was fortunate enough to discover the world and dynamics of how startups function. I would say it was both stressful and enjoyable. You do learn a lot. Whether about new technologies where you get the chance to apply them, or about team members and about yourself.
Regardless whether a startup succeeds or fails, it is truly a very enriching and fulfilling personal experience. Of course not all startups share the similar work culture and circumstances, but below are my two cents regarding my personal experience.
1. Befriend adaptation and change
Working in a startup means experimenting with ideas and concepts. Some ideas do have an impact, some on the other hand do not. That is why it is important when having a target, to set out a plan and to stop at certain time intervals during execution, to reflect about the current situation, and to decide whether or not to continue with the plan or create a new one.
Change is present everyday and every time. Do not expect to a have a constant work environment. Sometimes you and your team will acknowledge that something in the big picture is not quite right, so a lot of change will be needed. That in turn will be reflected in the choice of technology you use, and the approach regarding the current issue at hand.
2. Develop a can-do attitude
When you stumble upon a problem relax and be confident about solving it. The situation is new, the problem is complex, lots of people depend on you, but hey - you can do it. Thinking about the problem as a whole will indeed seem hard, but by dividing it into smaller issues or by setting out a plan, that will certainly help you in keeping your confidence high and in allowing you to concentrate on the problem itself and not about your ability to overcome it.
Divide and Conquer is a really helpful strategy in this situation. Another way to develop a can-do attitude is to regularly discuss the situation and issue with others. May it be your colleague, your CEO, the whole team - what matters is to get different opinions on the matter and reach a collective plan to tackle it.
3. Learn a lot
Having change as your new friend with a can-do attitude will enable you to learn a lot. You will have a chance to learn something new everyday, whether it is a technical concept, communication style with team members, or even learn about your personality.
Since the technology used might be new and the features change often, you will learn new technologies, prototype a lot, and expand your knowledge set in other domains used in the startup. For example, I did not have previous experience about scaling and about website performance issues. After reaching a high level of user visits, that issue became our number one concern and all the team shifted to address the requirement. That is how I, and everyone else in the team, learned about scalability, performance, usability and much more.
You will also get the chance to discover yourself, your personality and how you deal with people around you in difficult situations. It will be an eye-opener and a great chance for personal growth and maturity.
4. Gain new friends and family
Working in a startup means interacting with people around you all the time. Whether they are colleagues, the CEO and management, entrepreneurs, or other networks - you will need to deal with people everyday. By doing so, you will meet new faces every other day and you will eventually make new acquaintances and friends.
In addition, you and your team will work very closely to each other on a daily basis. A startup is not in that sense a typical work environment, where everyone knows their social boundaries in the office. A startup is more family-based, where you and your team are driven by one target, one plan, and one collective effort with all the highs and lows that come with it.
5. Share your private life
By gaining new friends and family, you will have to say goodbye to some of your private life. You and your team will work very closely to each other, interact frequently, and share aspirations, hopes, good and bad times. Eventually, everyone will know whats going on with everyone else, and you will end up sharing some of your private life.
6. Expect to work on holidays and weekends
The startup workplace is very dynamic. Sometimes setting tough deadlines and committing to it, sometimes showing a prototype to an investor or VC, or other times encountering a problem and needing to address it as soon as possible. Otherwise the user base will decline instead of grow. All of these factors requires to have an open mindset and to work in unconventional times. Late night, weekends, public holidays - no matter the day be prepared to receive a call from a fellow teammate informing you about an issue you need to solve at that moment.
7. Work in a highly-motivated environment
In addition to the dynamics of a startup, startup teams are usually largely motivated. They have a common goal to reach to, they set-out a plan with sprints and retrospectives, they are armored with a can-do attitude, and they celebrate success and minimize losses. You will get a highly motivated, positive and enthusiastic environment.
8. Become more social and communicative
You will need to interact and talk to different people almost everyday. Because of the agile and dynamic type of startups, good and clear communication is crucial to the success of the product.
For example, if a feature is unclear or has missing information you will need then to reach out to your fellow team members. You will need to take the initiative and and be ready for the follow up.
9. Enjoy a lot
Startups are stressful. The pressure of deliverability, the constant change, the social aspects of dealing with your team members on an individual level, and the unforeseen and unknown future, all adds up to the stress of working in a startup. But in this journey you will definitely encounter pleasant and enjoyable moments, where you will certainly cherish unpredicted outcomes and situations.