Startups are all the rage these days, right? Glorified in movies and media, pictured as a bunch of guys and girls in jeans and thick-rimmed glasses with witty personalities and the latest Apple technologies. Or as the movie The Internship describes them, startups are "ugly people and free cereal".
Now it seems like every time I go to my daily reading there's an article titled, "What it's really like working for a startup." They all seem to say the same thing: "You're going to go broke, lose sleep, have a non-existent social life and work long hours." Well, to be honest, I feel like you can do all of those things bartending, working for a large publicly traded corporation or even -- dare I say -- parenting.
A little more than a year ago, I made the extremely risky move to work for an early-stage startup on a full-time basis. When doing research into whether to take the leap from the security blanket that my public company was providing, I stumbled upon many of these articles. I took most of them into consideration.
However, I also took that leap. I quit my job and came to OpiaTalk 13 months ago, and after being fully ingrained in startup culture for over a year, I'd say those articles don't do the startup world any justice.
Truthfully, working at a startup is a little weird, and you have to be a little crazy to do it. So for all of those considering working for a startup, currently working at a startup or even thinking about exiting a startup, here is my weird and crazy insight into what it's really like to work at one.
Enter if you dare.
Lets say a good friend of mine -- we'll call him Steve -- is stranded on a deserted island. One day, I get a hazy voicemail from Steve that says, "Dude, I have an amazing idea for a new way to get off this island. It's nothing like anything you've ever seen. I'm not going to use a plane or a boat or anything! Come work with me on it and we'll be rich!"
Over the next several weeks I receive a series of calls and messages like this, attempting to convince me to come work on this project with him. He lays out his vision, traction, and resources. He also explains that he has access to a satellite phone that with just a few phone calls, will get us off of this island, so no need to worry. (We can think of this satellite phone as our gateway back to the security blanket that a publicly traded corporation would provide.)
All I can think initially is, "Why would I do this?" I am safe. I have easy access to everything I need, right here in front of me. Why would I put myself in this situation? And why doesn't Steve just make the calls and come back to safety and comfort?
Perhaps it was my curiosity, my need for something more or just general concern for Steve, but after long debate and deep personal thought, Steve, being the incredible visionary that he is, convinces me to join him on this journey.
I jump on the next boat out to coordinates unknown. The boat doesn't even do me the courtesy of slowing down when it approaches the island, forcing me to do my best Navy SEAL impersonation, jumping off the stern, making my way through the rough waters and up to the island, which I collapse on, gasping for air. Annoyed, tired, and grumpy at this point, the first thing I see is Steve, knee-deep in machine parts and grease, with a beard that would make any hipster jealous, and a dumbfounded expression on his face as if to say, "I can't believe you actually came!" We briefly exchange pleasantries, and then he assertively hands me a wrench.
So now there we are, Steve and Dave, looking at a pile of parts we need to somehow put together to create a fully functioning vessel to get us off this island before the battery in our satellite phone dies, we're unable to get a message out, and we're stuck here forever ... Oy vey.
Now it's time to work. Our runway is only so long, and we have to find a way off of this island - fast. There are ups and downs, successes and failures, arguments and laughter. I've picked up the satellite phone numerous times, dialed the number to get us off of this island only to have the phone slapped out of my hand with the exclamation: "STOP!I have an idea!". So I hang up the phone, hear him out and get back to work.
Then one day, we think we've got it. "We finally figured it out! Lets get off this island!" we exclaim. We start to make our way off in our new marine vessel, with lots of momentum and a big ole' prideful grin. But before you know it, we're neck-deep in treacherous waters with nowhere to go but back to the island. All our previous work seems wasted as we lie on the beach, taking what seem to be our last breaths, thinking we should just make the call and get off of this godforsaken island.
Let me tell you why I don't get off of this seemingly disastrous island. The sun is perfect, the foliage is gorgeous, it barely ever rains, the drinks are steady, the water is clear and my tan would make any Hawaiian Tropic girl jealous. Perhaps this is the craziest part, but I find myself more relaxed in the midst of all of this than I ever was at my safe corporate gig. My stress is healthy stress; I'm focusing on myself (which I felt like I couldn't do when I worked for publicly traded companies), and not worrying about all of the things that kept me up at night in the past. All things considered, I'm happy. Some people read that and say 'You're crazy!' Damn skippy I'm crazy, but maybe crazy is what it takes to be a part of a successful startup. Only time will tell.
So what's this island I'm on, and what's the vessel we're building? We are OpiaTalk. The hyper-conversion widget for online retailers designed to increase sales and drive leads. Our widget releases a time-sensitive promo on your site once a certain amount of visitors click and we are currently operating at an average conversion rate of around 13%. Our vessel has launched and we're making our way through the waves. Just a few more to go until smooth sailing (wishful thinking I'm sure).