Don’t Work at a Startup Before Reading This

In this article, I’m going to be digging into five tips that I would give you if you were trying to ramp up at a startup. By the end of this article, you’re going to have the exact things that you can do to better position yourself for success in your first 30, 60, and 90 days.

I’ve worked in startups for the last decade that have been revenue-producing profitable startups and so hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what it takes to be a top performer at a startup.

Tip #1: Put in the work

What you should expect when you are starting at a startup, is that you’re going to be doing a lot more in terms of your core day-to-day responsibilities than probably any other role that you’ve had in the past.

Startups are notorious for giving you more than what was actually in your job description. So my number one tip for you, especially when you’re in those early weeks of onboarding is to actually put in the work to learning all the new systems and processes that you’re being introduced to. Whenever I’m onboarding new people onto my team, what I tell them is that back in the early days, when I started out in the startup world, my days were seven to seven. I would start 7:00 AM in the morning and wrap up a little after seven at night and overtime as I got faster at doing different things that became seven to five and then a more manageable nine to five and so on.

But essentially until you actually have the experience to speak to the outcomes, then it’s going to be something in which you’re going to have to actually put in the work in order to ramp up fast enough. So generally when it comes to overall guidelines, I say that it takes about six to 12 months to truly feel like you’ve adjusted to the pace of a startup.

So in the case where you feel like you’re kind of treading water in those first few months, don’t worry. It’s a normal occurrence and it’s often something in which the game will slow down for you overtime. But only after you’ve actually put in the work to actually feel like the things around you are slowing down.

It’s no different than when you’re listening to people talk about being a rookie in a professional sports league in which rookies often talk about how the first year is often when the game is still slowing down and they just need to kind of wrap themselves around how the league works, what’s going on and how they can position themselves for success.

So what exactly does putting in the work mean? Well, it means that you’re going to, not only do what’s expected of you in onboarding, but you’re going to try to get ahead of yourself in terms of your onboarding. It means that when you’re being taught something that you’re not only learning the core way that’s being done today, but you’re starting to think about different ways that you can improve that existing process so that you can save some time later, as well as add new value to the team.

Tip #2: Be relentlessly curious

That naturally leads me to the second tip for today, which is to make sure that you are relentlessly curious, especially when you’re in your first 30, 60 and 90 days at a startup. This is the time period for you to be asking tons and tons of questions. And this is something in which what you want to do is you want to familiarize yourself with all the different ways that things are working because regardless of what role you’re in, whether that’s in biz ops, sales, marketing, or something else, it’s likely something in which you’re going to have questions and you should not bottle those up.

I even noticed that people that struggle when it comes to ramping up to the startup world often struggle because they are not effective communicators. They are not good at surfacing up the sorts of questions that come up over the course of a day. And so in the case where you’re a little more shy or you just aren’t used to asking for help and asking questions upfront, that’s something in which what you’re going to want to do is just come up with a system for yourself that might work for your personality.

For example, it might be something in which you’re going to think about the next three to five questions that you have, and then batch those together into the next one-on-one that you have with your manager. But what’s really important is that you’re able to get those questions answered and that you’re able to take what the answers are to those questions and apply them to make smarter decisions in learning the other processes that are going on around you.

Tip #3: Ask questions upfront

Asking questions naturally leads me to the third tip today, which is to make sure that you are asking questions upfront. In the case where you are learning something for the first time, especially in the case of a startup, it is unlikely that there’s going to be very good documentation for you. And the lucky chance that you do have a company that has documented all of their processes, then you’re already in the top 1% of 1% of startups.

But in most situations, when you’re working in a startup, it might be something where it’s going to be verbally communicated to you. So what that means is that if your manager or whoever is onboarding you is telling you all these different things, you’re not only going to want to make sure you’re jotting down, but also that you’re jotting down your immediate questions and asking those upfront before you start doing the task. Something I’ve often seen in terms of people that have ramped up slower is that they just kind of watch things as they’re happening when they’re getting onboarded on a particular task.

So let’s say for example, you’re being taught how to prepare content briefs for a content marketing calendar. This might be something in which the typical person is just going to kind of watch the person show them the process of creating the content briefs. But the diligent person that’s going to actually ramp up faster is not only going to kind of recap what was just shown to them but they’re also going to ask a few key questions that would help them position themselves up for success when they start to prepare their next content brief.

Do you see the difference? So in the first case, you’re just passively engaging with your onboarding whereas in the second case, you are actively engaging. You are actively trying to learn as rapidly as possible, and you’re setting yourself up for success because by asking the question, you’re also verbalizing to the person that’s onboarding you, your understanding as well as cementing the back of your head kind of a milestone moment where you can think back to that question you ask the next time that you do the particular tasks that you you’re being onboarded for.

Tip #4: Manage up effectively to your boss

At this point, what I typically say is really important when it comes to ramping up at startups is to make sure that you are managing up effectively to your boss. In your first one to two weeks at whether it’s your first one-on-one session or just in a separate onboarding time, what you’re going to want to do is you’re going to want to ask your direct manager what their preferred method is in terms of questions being asked to them as well any clarification’s that might be useful for you as you get ramped up.

The reason why is because you need to understand what the preferences are of your manager is so that you can make their lives easier. The reason why they have hired you is because you are trying to make their life easier because by delegating off the bandwidth of whatever it was that they previously were doing to you, they are able to work on the other strategic things that might be going on.

So what that means in terms of managing up is that you are learning what their communication method is as well as what their preferences are to how work is done. It might be something for example, before you start digging into a particular project, your manager likes to jump into a Slack huddle and just talk real quickly about some of the key deliverables or outcomes that they expect from you from this particular project.

Or it might be something in which the preferred model of communication is an initial write-up of what’s going to be done before starting to work on it, or it might even be a case in which your mentor doesn’t care about getting initial context and they just want you to go do it and then report back after you’ve done it.

But the important thing here is that you are learning how to manage up to your manager. The reason why this is so important is because if you do not start managing up to your manager in the early days of your onboarding, it’s only going to get worse as you continue your onboarding. The reason why is because your manager’s not going to have a good sense of what’s on your plate how are you managing in terms of the things they’re already on your plate and how much more can you add, and also you’re going to make it so that your manager is going to have to do more work in terms of figuring out exactly where you’re at in terms of the expectations of your onboarding.

So this really goes back to the important point I made earlier in terms of communication. If it’s something in which you have any question, the best time to ask is in your first few weeks of onboarding. If you are not regularly asking for help in your first few weeks, then you are not taking tip number two into consideration in terms of being relentlessly curious because if you were being relentlessly curious, then you are going to ask questions regardless of the situation or how embarrassing your think it might be of a question.

Tip #5: Commit to the principle of Kaizen

And then my fifth tip when it comes to wrapping up and starting at a startup is to commit to the principle of Kaizen or continuous improvement. This is the idea that what you want to do is anything that you’re onboarding on, you want to focus on getting 1% better every single day, and the reason why you want to do this is because sometimes you’re going to have good days and other days you’re going to have bad days in your onboarding. It is inevitable. This really doesn’t matter in the context of whether this is a job at a startup or a job anywhere else.

Pretty much everyone has good and bad days of onboarding because there’s going to be days where you’re learning something really hard and it feels like you’re taking two steps back, even though you spent the last few days taking a step forward. And the important thing for you to do is to be optimistic about A: your competency and your ability to get caught up to speed. And then B: that you’re making mistakes learning quickly from them and then not repeating those mistakes in the next time that it comes around.

That’s what’s so important when it comes to ramping up at a startup is mistakes are okay, but it’s not okay to keep making the repeated mistake over and over again when feedback has already been communicated to you. So in the case where you haven’t really been held accountable to continuously improving your pastorals, startups are the best place to do that because startups are often the place in what you’re going to have a lot of ownership in your work.

In many situations, these companies are going to be very young. They’re not going to have as many people as they probably should for the stage that they’re at. And so what that means is that you need to own the fact that you are not where you need to be, but that you are committed to the process of improving. And you need to demonstrate that not only to yourself but also to your manager. I’ve got a ton of other tips when it comes to ramping up at a startup, but I just wanted to start this out with these five because I think they’re so so crucial based on my past experiences of onboarding tons of people onto my teams.

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