Working at an early stage startup is sort of like jumping on to a sinking ship. Ok that sounded bad, let me put it a different way. Corporations have figured out what their business is, and their primary focus is on growing that business. The captains of the ship are well on their way, and their job is to make sure that the ship doesn’t veer off course. But for the most part, it’s stressful, yes, but you have lots of tools and navigation devices to make sure you get to where you want to go.
At an early stage startup, the story is completely reversed. You have joined just as the ship has hit the iceberg, and you’re not only trying to find the holes, but you’re trying to plug them, get the extra water out of the ship, and get the ship sailing again. Basically, you’re the crew of the Titanic, trying to make sure that you fix the ship just in the nick of time so Jack and Rose can live happily ever after. Your main objective is to get more and more efficient at finding holes, and once the holes are found, get more and more efficient at filling them. Because if you don’t find and fill the biggest holes in time, you’re all going under (or, in startup terms, you don’t prove your concept out in time and consequently run out of cash).
That’s what people in industry use The Lean Startup framework for (and where the fail fast and often comes from). You need to fail faster and faster every day (i.e. getting better and better at finding the holes) and then once you find a hole, get really good at plugging them as fast as possible to see if it will actually help save the ship (i.e. can I actually generate revenue here?)
It’s a totally different mindset that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Because your business is falling around you every day. You witness it, and there’s not much you can do about it. That’s the way it will be. (Think about that for a second- can you handle working in semi- disfunction at any given point in time? Because compared to a corporate environment that’s what it will feel like) At a startup, there is no possible way you can catch everything/make sure nothing falls through the cracks- it’s just not the best use of resources. What startup teams need to be excruciatingly excellent at is finding out which are the biggest holes (i.e. most life threatening for business) that need to be filled first and focus on filling them. And doing that job as efficiently/effectively as possible.
But if you can keep doing that ( finding the biggest holes and filling them as fast as possible) maybe, JUST maybe, you’ll look up one day and you’ll find that there are no more holes to fill. In fact, you may look up and find that you are are actually sailing- all on your own.
And that’s the rush that startup teams live for: not only saving the Titanic, but making it the baddest ship in all of the land.