More often than not, a general belief has been that an employee is an employee. It doesn’t matter if the person works in a startup or an MNC, the expectations about what a great employee are generally uniform. This approach is flawed at multiple levels. Firstly, not even two MNCs working in the same industry have similar expectations from an employee. Secondly, since startups have a completely different way of working, operations, mission, view, etc, what an ideal employee looks like at a startup is definitely different. What makes a great startup employee is not something you can identify in just a day. In fact, there is no one trait that can say that someone is a great startup employee.
Nevertheless, there are a few traits that most employees that thrive in a startup environment share. This is not to say that you won’t thrive in a startup without them. But, just to be on the safe side, you may want to map them to your traits!
Desire to Learn
The first trait of a great startup employee is a desire to learn. If you come with a chip on the shoulder that you know everything, you may be a misfit. Undoubtedly, it is good to make your team aware about what skill sets you bring along, as well what your areas of expertise are. However, it is equally important to be open to learning afresh. Since startups, themselves, are in the phase of learning what works and what does not, individuals joining one need to come with the same attitude.
In fact, most startups today give weight age to a learning attitude over aptitude. They are not looking for know it alls. Rather, they seek those who don’t feel that learning new skills from seniors and juniors is beneath them. Additionally, startups today are even experimenting with roles that did not exist conventionally. Obviously, one needs to be willing to learn what the responsibility encompasses to actually do it well. Therefore, success at a startup begins with an open outlook about learning.
Spirit of Collaboration
In the present day and age, working in silos seldom works for MNCs, and established organizations, much less for startups. This makes a spirit of collaboration a must to be a great startup employee. This is true for a couple of reasons. If you are working in a unicorn startup, you would need to collaborate with people from different departments to get your needle moving. On the other hand, if you are working with a seed startup, you may not have teams to collaborate with, but definitely individuals. You may be wearing multiple hats and would definitely need to collaborate with other such people. Additionally, the startup culture also thrives on cross collaboration. This means that you will have to meaningfully engage with different startups from different domains to succeed. Invariably, be it within the team or outside, collaboration is a key trait of successful startup employees.
Passion over Perks
Those who join a startup are seldom motivated only by a six or seven figure compensation package or perks. You will rarely hear a startup employee saying I joined the organization because the benefits are great. No doubt some startups offer unparalleled benefits and flexibility. However, that is not the reason employees choose them. More often than not, startup employees are guided by passion for what the vision of the startup is. This is because startups give employees more ownership to experiment with their passion. In fact, this is one of the peculiar traits of employees in startups. A lot of them leave their comfortable cushiony job to follow their passion. Thus, when it comes to being a great startup employee, you need to be passionate and align with what your startup offers. Invariably, in the absence of the same, you will find yourself lost.
Be a Risk Taker
A startup is all about risks. Right from the first pitch to closing the 100th deal, every step brings along certain risks. While it is true that the onus of most risk taking falls on the founders, it does have a trickle down effect. Therefore, a great startup employee needs to be a risk taker at multiple levels. Firstly, you never know about the success rate of any startup. Invariably, if you join one, you are taking a risk which has some chance of failure too. Secondly, when you work at a startup, every new vertical you work with, or every new client you engage with is a risk in itself.
Most large brands have done the same presentation multiple times and thus, have validation. However, in a startup, every presentation is a risk that may or may not work out. This means that startup life is full of uncertainties. Thus, a constant trait of startup employees is that they reach risks head on and are not afraid of the uncertain.
Thrive in Chaos
Next in line when it comes to the traits of an ideal startup employee is the ability to thrive in chaos. If you ask any startup founder or employee, you won’t get a common thread of the chaos that exists for everyone. Since the offerings, deliverables and almost every aspect of business for startups is dynamic, startups are always chaotic. Therefore, a great startup employee needs to have the trait of thriving in chaos.
This means that when you are working in a startup, there will not be very clearly defined roles and responsibilities. There will be an overlap of roles. You may end up doing something completely different than what you came onboard for. In short, there will be a lot of chaos to deal with. However, if you are able to thrive in that chaos, and actually take inspiration from the same to grow and succeed, you are in a good place.
Sense of Urgency
If you go and ask a startup employee, “By when do you need this presentation”? More often than not they will say, I need it as of yesterday. This means that startups always function on the principle of agency. Since everything is dynamic in a startup, there is also a need to be up the curve, all the time. This translates to a trait that startups demand from their employees. Some might refer to this as being agile. Put simply, startup employees need to be on top of everything, everytime. There is no room for someone who takes their sweet time to turn around a project or a presentation. Startups work in real time and therefore, those who come with a sense of urgency are a perfect fir. To be a great startup employee, make sure that you are as enthusiastic as the founder and on your toes.
Career over Role
One of the final traits that you need to come along with to be a great startup employee is focusing on your career over your role. Most startup employees join it not to master just a particular role. Rather, their focus is on building a career. Therefore, if you are looking to simply master a defined role like HR, Finance, etc, you might be better off in a structured organizational environment. However, if your center of attention is to make a career by experimenting with different responsibilities and dabbling into holistic professional development, a startup environment is ideal. Invariably, most startup employees come with a trait to understand how the journey at the startup fits into their whole career plan, and not simply what the role entails.
Great Startup Employee: Are You One?
It goes without saying that you may have all of these traits, still far away from the tag of a great startup employee. However, don’t lose heart. Because, each startup is an ecosystem in itself and has different definitions of what they mean by a great startup employee. Nevertheless, if you do possess these traits and are seeking opportunities to join seed to unicorn startups, ring us up!