Here’s What I Learned From Working In Startups

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Here’s What I Learned From Working In Startups

For most university students, there is one truth that they should understand. And that one truth is that once they graduate, there is a high chance that their first job will be at a small business or a startup, rather than a large conglomerate that they might be dreaming of.

And this is perfectly normal. After all, reports have shown that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Malaysian economy, as it accounts for a whopping 97.2 percent of total business establishments, generating 38.2 percent of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP), while also providing jobs for 7.3 million Malaysians.

So the numbers show that more often than not, someone who is fresh off of college or university will land a job at one of these companies.

However, one important thing to note is that although some might believe that a job is a job, no matter where you work, working at SMEs and startups can be very different from working in a big, established company.

Which is why in today’s article, I wanted to share what my experience working at three different startups and SMEs in five years taught me.

The two Ps of working in a startup

The very first thing you should understand about working in SMEs or startups is that you will be dealing with the two Ps very often.

What are these two Ps?  Pressure and Passion. Although some might argue that the two Ps are present no matter where you work, in my experience it’s a much bigger factor when you work at a startup.

Let’s have a look at the first P, pressure. Now as mentioned above, pressure is something that every employee will have to face, no matter where they work. But when you work in an MSME or a startup, the pressure will be on a different level.

The reason for this is that in a SME or a startup, the organisation is smaller which means the responsibility of keeping the business running has to be shared among a small group of employees only. This in turn will mean higher pressure as startups have limited manpower resources so the job pressures will be focused on just a handful of employees.

This brings us to the second P, passion. Due to the higher amount of pressure you will face when working at a startup or a SME, it is very important for you to determine which aspect of your job you have the most passion for. Concentrate on working tasks that align with your passions, and learn to channel your energy where it best belongs. Drawing inspiration from the parts of the job that you are most passionate about will help to keep you motivated.

Be prepared to handle multiple roles

Here’s another truth about working in SMEs and startups, you will have to learn to multitask. 

These companies generally have smaller organisations, which means that you are expected to take on a wider range of roles in your work. 

 In my previous company , I started as a content writer. But it didn’t take long for me to have to take on the responsibility of a website manager, an SEO manager, a social media manager, and even managing the interns.

For some of you, this might sound like a massive red flag; you might not be wrong to believe that. But, one positive thing you can take away from this situation is that it’s a great situation for you to learn and expand your skill set.

Besides multi-tasking, there will also be less structure and management layers so you will have the opportunity to learn many different parts of the business hands on.

Independence is the name of the game

Want a job where you’re given the independence to work on your projects by yourself? Then startups or MSMEs might be the best place for you.

Again, due to the smaller size of the team in startups, you will find that most of the time, everyone is too busy managing their multiple responsibilities. 

So if you believe that you can come in and get mentored about your role and responsibilities, you might not find it here. Another expectation that SMEs and startups will have of you is for you to be able to hit the ground running in terms of carrying out your duties. One way you can do this is by doing research on what your duties and responsibilities entails, and get a head start on your tasks.

Understand that both you and employer is still learning

One thing that you should take to heart when you’re working at a startup or SME is the fact that both you and your employer are still learning.

Hence, mistakes are unavoidable, from both sides. I’ve experienced fortnightly meetings to discuss one of our previous methods that might have or might have not worked out.

If you’re working at a startup or MSME, especially for startups, this is normal and you can expect this to happen more often.

The good that can come out of this is that it’s a good way for you to intimately learn and understand the process of running your own company. Another pros of learning with your company is that you have the opportunity to grow together with your company, which means that you have the room to screw up a little bit.

Directly involved in business outcomes

For employees of a bigger and more established company, perhaps this is not something that they pay attention to too much, but for employees of a startup and SMEs, you need to take greater stock in the direction of your company.

You will hear first hand on things like how well is the company doing, what are its future plans, and other factors that might give you an indication of how well your place of employment is doing.

Why is it important for you to get a sense of all this? So that you can plan your future accordingly. One harsh truth about startups that you need to understand as an employee is that the failure rate is very high.

According to statistics, 20% of startups fail in the first year, 50% within five years, and 65% within 10 years. So this means that it happens more often than not, so having a long term plan might be a smart move.

Lacking benefits

For most startups, they’re still trying to find their footing in the industry. Which means for the most part, they will not be able to offer you a competitive benefit package.

Of course, the basics will be provided such as EPF and Socso contribution (because it’s mandatory by law), but don’t get your hopes up for other benefits such as medical insurance, dental and optical benefits, and others.

Working at a startup can still be a good first step for you

Even though over the course of this article it might seem like working in a startup or MSME is a terrible idea, the truth is that for most people there is not much of a choice. So my advice is to make the best of the situation, and glean as much as you can from your time working there.

A startup or a SME is still a very good place to start your career, as you can learn a lot, even things that perhaps you’d never learn from other places. So take the chance to expand your skill set as much as you can.

Read More: If A Job Offer Comes With Employee Stock Options, Should You Take It?

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