“What do you do for a living?”
“Oh, I work at a startup.”
This is how most of my conversations start when I meet new people at networking events or at social gatherings. I’m curious to see how they’ll react to my next few answers.
“Oh, what’s it called? I have a friend who joined a startup.”
The first thing people usually try to do is relate. Either they have a friend who joined a startup (by the way, companies as big as Dropbox and Square don’t really count as startups anymore) or they have this idea that they’re convinced is a gold mine. Or my favorite, they had the idea for Uber, but for pizza, back in undergrad. News flash: building a successful startup is all about execution, not the idea.
The funny thing when you talk to people who aren’t familiar with the startup world is that they tend to think that working at a startup is all fun and easier than, say, working a big company. News flash: work is still work. And while the process and culture might be different, at the end of the day you’re getting serious about KPI’s and investor pitches.
“So what does your company do?”
Ah, the elevator pitch! The pop quiz you always know is coming. This might be an easier answer for business-to-consumer companies that can be classified as a mobile app, two-way marketplace, etc. I, however, work in the B2B SaaS world (that’s business-to-business software-as-a-service), which isn’t glamorous but, in my opinion, is where the big bucks are. I usually try to give a simple answer, e.g. cloud-based event management platform. I know that the person I’m talking to probably has no idea how big the industry is or who would even need such a platform. Which is ok. That’s my job, not theirs.
“And what do you do at the startup?”
“I do the marketing. All of it. I’m basically the marketing department.”
This usually gets a chuckle. The funny thing about being a one-woman marketing department is that you’re in charge of everything so when deadlines aren’t met, you only have yourself to blame. This happens quite frequently because not only am I the marketing department, but sometimes I switch over to business development, support, QA tester…you get the picture.
In the startup world, we like to call this wearing many hats. With limited resources and manpower, you’re frequently stepping into roles you may not be familiar with but have to figure out. So I’m not always writing blog posts and crafting the perfect email. Sometimes I’m on the phone with a confused customer or messaging everyone on Slack to get their orders in for the team lunch. The nice thing is that you’re not expected to be perfect at everything you try. You just need to tackle it with the right attitude. And who knows, that could be your new position in a few months.
The thing is, every startup is different. Ask these same questions to people at different companies and you’ll get wildly different answers (and even some crazy job titles!). I actually enjoy talking about working at a startup. The highs and lows can make for great stories and lessons learned, and people usually remember what you do.
Ever met someone at a startup and had a similar conversation?