Shocks of Joining a Startup

Lee Lubner, Rhiannon White (Chief Product Officer, Vend), Matt Thurin (Growth, AirWallex), Emily Burke (Strategy Analyst, Insight Timer), Tim Rossanis (GM, Head of Growth - Retail & New Verticals A/NZ, Uber), Tim Atkins (COO, CancerAid), Chris Quirk (Investment Manager, rampersand), Tom Bass (Cofounder of Flirtey / Growth PM Atlassian), Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok), Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow), Kanav Bhama (Business Operations, Dovetail)
Lee Lubner

It will be chaotic and fast-paced. There will be limited guidance, structure, knowledge to lean on. It's a constant changing environment.

Rhiannon White (Chief Product Officer, Vend)

The chaos! Just embrace it and work on bringing clarity. 

Matt Thurin (Growth, AirWallex)

The pace is very quick. You are almost expected to try things knowing it’s okay to fail, however make sure you fail quickly and move on. There also aren’t as many processes and structures. While this has benefits, it can also be a challenge if you’ve come from a big corporation. 

Everyone likes to think they are good with change. Being in a start-up you learn things change very quickly and you really do need to be okay with this. Adapting quickly is key

Tim Rossannis (GM, Head of Growth - Retail & New Verticals A/NZ, Uber)
  • There was a culture shock in terms of moving into a high-paced, high expectation tech company where there are lots of ambitious and smart people pushing you
  • Was a paradigm shift in terms of who you interact with and what’s expected
  • The first 3 months can be like drinking from a firehose adjusting to the pace
  • You should expect a layer of chaos

Chris Quirk (Investment Manager, rampersand)

The autonomy, the need to think for yourself and not rely on a manager to hold your hand.

Tom Bass (Cofounder of Flirtey / Growth PM Atlassian)

Founders most likely have no clue what they are doing re: managing ppl and it is often a case of changing directions, often. Be prepared for a bit of whiplash. 

Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok)

Be prepared to be flexible, to constantly pivot, think outside the box and to put the extra 10% in to get something across the line. I wouldn't describe this as a shock for me, but it’s definitely been one of the biggest differences between working in a private law firm and an in-house legal team. It’s fast paced and you have to embrace it. 

Not only this, but you have to learn to balance your work for clients/stakeholders with working to improve your company's internal processes and systems. The latter is about growing your team and more broadly the company, and coming from a large corporate law firm, I’ve had to remind myself to prioritise these tasks as this is what is going to lay the foundations of a team/company and (hopefully) make life easier down the track when things start to scale.  

If you’re at a startup, it’s likely that no one has tried and tested various ways of working, and you have to be prepared to embrace that and dig in to put those processes in place yourself. 

Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow)

Get used to change, and ideally, learn to thrive in it. I hear people say “Things change so quickly at [insert startup name here]” on a weekly basis, and my response is always, “Yes, they should.” Expect and know this going in, and learn to take change with a positive attitude and openness to learn.

Kanav Bharma (Business Operations, Dovetail) 

I think the biggest challenges and shocks were just around culture and ways of working, that’s natural moving from a strategy consulting role into a product-led growth environment for the first time. It’s exciting though because you see a group of hungry, passionate and experienced product people looking to solve customer problems, and the lens flips to “how can I help you stay laser focused on doing that well?”. And often the answer is scaling parts of the business that are not product related. 

Other positive shocks have been moving into a significantly more laid back environment, yet the output and velocity at which we move has been incredible. Lastly, there’s a lot more autonomy over work output and less time spent on perceived lower value work. 

Emily Burke (Strategy Analyst, Insight Timer)

There are always interpersonal conflicts and politics in any organisation. But the smallness of an early-stage startup team can magnify those conflicts. Before joining a small start-up, make sure you do your research on the culture, and speak to people who have left the startup and so can speak freely.

Another big challenge can be the lack of structure; but the upside is you’ll have a lot of autonomy and variety, which keeps things fun.

What have we missed? Please hit 'Contribute to the Guide' to give your perspective and help others into their first role.

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