The Joys of working in a startup? Well, get busy living or get busy dying

[Editorial notes: So how does it feel to work for a startup? Here is a guest post by Albinder Dhindsa, Head of International Expansion at Zomato.]

Get Busy Living or get busy dying” – Red from Shawshank Redemption

Undeniably one of the greatest quotes from one of the best movies ever made. I guess its not a surprise that a movie about a prison is what came to my mind when I thought about parallels for corporate life.

Fret not though, this article is not about lampooning the power-pointy, neck-tied existence of cubicle people. Rather, its a call to experience the joys of working in a start-up, at-least once in your career.

So, if Shawshank is my parallel for corporate life, the one for joining a start-up has to be bungee jumping, except if the bungee station was run by meth addicts, and you don’t know if the ties will hold (and yes, the entrepreneurs are the meth addicts in this analogy). Here are some lessons from personal experience.

Its a challenge like no other – This seems like a tired old way to put it but it is the simple truth. Most of us have faced challenges in academic and professional life, but unlike those challenges, the problem statement in a start-up is pretty vague and self-defined. Most of us get hired by companies based on skill set that is somewhat compatible with a job description. Start-ups do that to a certain extent too, but most decisions are based on fit and attitude. At least at Zomato, we hire people not skill-sets. As long as the between-ears processor is clicking, we figure you will learn whatever it is you need to do.

Since you are not entirely sure about the nature of the challenge, figuring it out becomes even more…ummm…challenging? Its strangely liberating and scary to look for the next step, let alone figure out whether its the right one or not. Here is another wrench, you are probably going to be asked to look at twenty different things from day one and most of them are likely to be ones where you have no domain knowledge. If that doesn’t sound exciting enough, you might want to try skydiving (without a parachute of course).

It makes the 360 degree evaluation comically redundant – Once you are working in an environment where you are not required to turn in TPS reports you find out your true nature pretty quickly. Things like prioritization and time management are no longer chores but show themselves as essential parts of your personality. Same goes for figuring out if you are internally motivated to do this work or were you doing it just to support your Bangkok trips. Self discipline and internal drive in people differentiate most successful start-ups from the not-so-successful ones. When you are truly unfettered from the chords of hierarchy do you begin to understand the task-master manager on your floor who drove his employees more than anyone else – he was simply acting as an external agent to replicate these two traits.

You figure out why organizations become what they do – We try everyday to create an organization that is unlike anything any of us has previously “endured”. The structure needs to be flat and people need to be creative etc etc. However, you soon start seeing those annoying little corporate tendencies like update calls, reporting structures and training manuals start rearing their heads. They start off as ways to help maintain a semblance of control but soon become weapons of scalability. Here is the obvious tip, get in while that stuff is still being written- its infinitely more fun to create rules rather than follow them. At Zomato, we are still retaining hope that our culture will help us grow more organically without becoming a rigid organization. Only time will tell if we can succeed.

You find out what it is like to play cricket when the power outage outlasts the laptop batteries.

You go from incentives to ownership – In a start-up, your Beta with the company is one even when it all comes crumbling down. However, day in and day out – I see people who are infinitely happier betting on themselves rather than “working for tips”. Of course, everybody hopes there is a payout at the end of all the work – but the people who stick around in start-ups are those that see it as a personal statement rather than a career decision. So if you are on the fence about taking an offer at a start-up out of college or another job or business school – take a hard look at the people in the company. Would you bet on them? if yes, now ask yourself, would I bet on me?
What are your thoughts?

Aside, watch the videos from Shawshank Redemption and Office Space


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