I am what you might call a startup junkie.
I founded my first company when I was a student at the University of Toronto. We were partnering with a company that was putting the computer electronics into cars that were on the MTV show, Pimp My Ride. I got to meet celebrities, and had our product featured on TV — it was my university dream come true.
After that, as you might imagine, I was hooked on startups.
I decided to join another Canadian startup as soon as I graduated, launching Canada's fourth national wireless carrier. It wasn’t as glamorous as Pimp My Ride, but being a part of the tremendous growth we saw was incredibly exciting.
I then moved on to be CTO at high-growth startups TouchBistro and Top Hat, and landed at Nautical, the multi-vendor marketplace platform, where you can find me today.
A lot of people interested in joining a startup ask me what my experience has been like, and what to expect when they make the switch from a more traditional corporate role into a startup.
Although my startup experience is sometimes difficult to put into words, I am going to do my best to share why I believe startups are an incredible place to work.
Expand Your Skill Set
At a startup, you have the ability to hyper accelerate your personal growth. You can raise your hand and offer yourself up to other departments and projects you might be interested in. There are always additional resources needed and always something to be done.
At TouchBistro, as an engineer I was given the opportunity to run customer service and customer support. Traditional roles may have pigeon-holed me into a role without flexibility to serve in other capacities.
As a startup grows, you will also find yourself with the incredible opportunity to grow with the organization. At TouchBistro, I started when there were 20 employees and grew with it to 500 employees. I then moved on to be CTO of Top Hat where I was responsible for 120 engineers.
See Your Impact
At a startup, everybody is somebody. Your opinion truly matters, and you can see the impact your decisions make. There is a direct line between what you are doing in your role and the benefits it has on the company, to the customer, and to your co-workers.
Seeing the results of my decisions and being recognized for the job I’m doing motivates me to face challenges head-on every day and keep driving towards growth.
Get Customer-Facing Experience
You expect to be in front of the customer in a sales or customer success role at any company, but at a startup every member of the team is customer-facing. You may be pulled into a demo as an engineer or added to a sales call as a product manager.
In any role, you will hear the customer pains and issues firsthand and be a part of the solutioning. This customer-connectedness inspires me as an engineer to think outside of the box to create the perfect product for our customers.
I think the best startup employees show up with a lot of grit and curiosity. You are going to face new challenges every single day, and you have to be ready to tackle those. And, many times in a startup, these challenges you’re facing have no guidebook on how to handle them. There is no “right” answer — you have to get curious and ask the right questions to figure out how to embrace the challenge at hand.
Nautical President, Niklas Halusa, once told me that one year at a startup early in your career, is worth three years later in your career. The amount of context you get about how businesses really work, how they operate internally, and how to make them successful is incredibly hard to replicate elsewhere.
If you’re curious, eager to learn, and want to better understand how businesses work, there is no better place to do that than at a startup.