6 Life Lessons Learned from Working at a Startup
While graduating from college is an exciting time, trying to figure out what you want to do with your life is absolutely terrifying. Back in 2012, I, like any petrified graduate-to-be, began my search for the perfect job. Or, let’s be honest, any job. Hiding among the insurance companies and the telemarketing jobs was a listing for PinLeague, the Pinterest marketing site now known as Tailwind. Being an Advertising major and a lover of all things social, I decided to apply. I’ll be honest -- at that time, PinLeague did not have the most professional-looking website. In fact, my friends joked that I was applying to work at the “We Sell Your Stuff On eBay” store from 40 Year Old Virgin. After talking with our co-founders, Danny and Alex, I decided to take the job. Although it was scary deciding to begin my career at a startup, my time at Tailwind has taught me some incredibly important life lessons.
1. Hours are arbitrary.
As an undergraduate, I was under the impression that one goes to work at 9:00 a.m. and gets off at 5:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., if you take a short lunch. Guess what? That’s not how startups work. For us, work starts at 9ish and goes until you hit a stopping point, then you head home, eat and finish up a few things before falling asleep and starting the process all over again. Weekends mean finding a way to strike a balance between spending time with your friends and family, while sneaking away to check and reply to emails, Tweets, Facebook comments, Pinterest notifications or whatever else might pop up. Sure, working around the clock is not a requirement for a paycheck. But if you’re in it for a paycheck and NOT because it’s your passion, then you do not belong at a startup.
2. It’s kind of cool to say you work at a startup.
Although your grandparents -- or even your parents -- might not understand what you do for a living, working at a startup is becoming a millennial badge of honor. It shows you have vision. It shows you’re confident in your ideas and that you’re willing to take risks. It shows that work ethic did not die with our generation. Most of all, it shows you truly, deeply believe in yourself and your peers. And let’s be honest -- it’s kind of scary working at a company with little to any past. But because you’re willing to take that risk, you’re proving to the world that you have balls. Some pretty cool balls at that.
3. Initiative is everything.
I’ve known people who work in big, corporate offices who are able to skate by doing the bare minimum. If you’re in a company with fewer than five people, there is absolutely no way you’re “skating by.” I came to Tailwind as employee number two -- four, if you include our co-founders. I had no idea what I was doing. There were no predetermined tasks, I didn’t have a direct superior, and I had nothing to reference. My first few months were bumpy, but with help from Alex, Danny, my co-worker Jessica, and many Google searches, I was able to take initiative and carve out an effective content marketing program, creating countless inbound leads for our company. While I am the first to admit that I still have plenty of room to grow, it feels good knowing I’m in a company that requires constant growth.
4. Failure can’t destroy you.
You will fail. It will suck. You’ll probably cry. But you learn from it and move forward. Although this isn’t a lesson exclusively learned at a startup, at least here there’s the freedom to fail. And honestly, sometimes failure is the kick in the ass you need to do incredible things. Just pick yourself up, wipe away the tears, and move on to your next great lesson.
5. Don’t try to be normal.
My least favorite question: “So, what’s your typical day like?” Well, I write, I design, I talk to people, I use our database, I pretend to understand what our development team is talking about, I try to come up with genius ideas on virality… All in all, a “typical day” is the stuff of fairytales around our office. Since we aren’t “set in our ways” we live in a constant state of motion. We try new things (see number 4), we learn new lessons, and we move with our customers’ wants and needs. Although I have friends who think I’m absolutely crazy because I can’t predict my weeks, I couldn’t imagine a life of monotony.
6. Success is one hell of a drug.
I’m part of a team that:
- helped Tailwind grow from ~100 customers to over 12,000 in under 18 months;
- underwent a $1M seed financing round;
- acquired a major competitor in our space;
- continually pioneers entirely new ways to market on Pinterest;
- went from a >100,000 Alexa rank to one of the top 15,000 websites in the world;
- and grew from 4 people to a team of 14.
These collective accomplishments are addicting. They make everything feel better. I sleep better, eat better, exercise better, and socialize better just knowing that I had a hand in shaping this incredible company into what it is today and what it will be tomorrow. Success pumps the blood through my veins, and I know I’m not alone. All of us at Tailwind will continue to chase that high.
What's the biggest life lesson you have learned from working at a startup?
Shortly after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Advertising, Melissa Megginson began her career as Marketing Manager at Tailwind.