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What I Learnt In My 5 Years In Start-ups

I’ve worked with startups since 2011 and here are a few things I learned along the way.

I end up taking app based cabs often for my work commute. On one such ride, I was driven by a well-spoken young man who obviously took a lot of pride in his work – as reflected in the state of his car and the way he interacted with me.

It turned out that he had quit a job in a chemical company to take this up. "Sir, I make more money driving this cab than I made as a sales guy." He told me. "This job has enabled me to construct my own house and what's more I get to keep my own hours", he explained.

Talking to him I realized that what he was doing wasn't very different from me. Besides money, ability to make his own choices and charting his own path was important to him.

We might believe that we work for our monthly pay cheques but it's generally about a lot more. In the case of start-ups, choosing them as work and lifestyle choices means making hard calls.

I've worked with startups since 2011 and here are a few things I learnt along the way.

#1. Identify your key skill set. Aim to be a superhero.

Start-ups, at least the ones I have worked in, want you for a very specific reason. It's not your qualifications or your years of experience. It's for that one thing that you do so well that it's hard to find people like you.

If you are a developer be a coding superstar. If you are a marketer, then be the kind of guy that can make Don Draper feel like a nobody. This is why you join a start-up; to make a difference because you are good enough to actually make one.

#2. Have a clear "career" vision.

You know what you are good at, you know where you stand from a skill perspective, and you know how much better you have to get. Having this clarity is critical to your career.

Your career path will not always be precise and move as you would want it to; but your intent should be precise. Don't see yourself in terms of designations but what you would like to be known for.

#3. Have career pit stops

Every three to five years take stock of your career. Are you getting where you want to? Are you happy with your work and the progress you have made? Are you financially where you want to be?

Ask yourselves these questions and if you find the answers less than satisfactory then take corrective measures. Identify problem areas and work on them specifically.

#4. Incorporate setbacks and failures into your plans

I don't know where I heard it but I have always lived by a maxim; "Only fools never expect to lose". Have a provision in your finances and your career plans for the occasional bump in the road.

A job loss might not be easy to explain and getting back on your feet could be painful but the fact is that you do recover. I survived on my savings and by free-lancing for a year as I was unwilling to compromise on what I wanted out of my career.

#5. Work with and for leaders and values, not companies

Your career grows when your attitude and temperament find a fit with the organization and people you work with. Always look out for this in your company. Are people becoming better and smarter? Are you becoming better? While this may seem like a lofty goal, it has a significant impact on how successful you will be financially, as well.

Nobody pays you for being average. Work constantly and consistently on being better than average no matter where you work.

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