In the Belly of a Startup

Hello there!!

I wouldn’t be wrong if I were to compare a startup environment to that of a biosphere, albeit a technological one, with its unique, fragile ecosystem, whose very nature, paradoxically, is mutational change. What started out as a butterfly could well metamorphose into a frog and vice versa! The very word mutation is suggestive of something entirely new, borne from the old, which needs to stand the vagaries of time.

The question that would then come to the mind would be, So, what’s this new conversation, which dominates the startup scene? In the scenario of business it can only be compared to what the world has known so far and that is the traditional corporate or government workplace environment. I often wonder what has really happened to turn these well- established worlds upside down, on their heads, so to speak and is threatening to dismantle those notions, firmly embedded in the social ethos.

In other words, it’s time to examine the startup culture which is turning out to be a veritable breeding ground for a completely untried way of living.

Culture is collective! It’s that collation of tid-bits of human behaviour which converts consciously and unconsciously, into an entire panorama which makes for everyday living; of how and what one eats and drinks, what one wears, the language that one speaks, the words and phrases and idioms that are mouthed, and the thoughts that one may or may not have, the political opinions that one may subscribe to, and- the list could just go on. Its these myriad, little, unspoken, taken- for- granted things, which make up culture  the culture of a region and within that, of a workplace.

It also inherently mirrors the values held by the founders. To start with, startup culture, is a complete antithesis of the corporate world! Basically, it’s skewed, and it’s topsy-turvy! It could be reflected right at the first step, while being recruited. Eg. The HR could hire an employee on the spot immediately after the interview, unlike the usual corporate way, throwing all convention to the winds.

Once in, the paradigm that must be taken for granted, is that nothing can be taken for granted! Everything that one is familiar with may not be relevant! Every day is a new day, is the mantra!
The way to survive would be to unlearn whatever that has been learnt over the years and relearn. One should be prepared to adopt /sport the attitude of own the job and own the place. To rephrase, to be prepared to do the job of a domestic help and be the owner of the house too, all in the same breath!

A startup being a smaller and a flatter organisation, it opens up a level playing field to all the employees. It gives an opportunity to find creative solutions and engage in “out-of-the-box” thinking, to take risks and to doggedly pursue anything till things turn around, when in crisis. This environment is a fertile ground to learn and ensures a hands-on experience on how to build an organisation from the start. The effects of any contribution are directly felt within the organisation as the opinions of junior employees are as important as those of the seniors, unlike in the corporate world.

Needless to say, it is unending excitement, a never ending saga of long hours, days and nights of work, lots of ego-bashing and when necessary, having to eat the humble pie, admit defeat and start all over again.

At the same time it’s casual and fun work environment too. It’s quite possible to see a person sporting casual clothes like shorts and tees and working with blaring music in the background. Or working from home, if the baby sitter has not turned up or the plumber needs to come in.

Apart from this, some startups give perks like breaks for a game of ping-pong during working hours, organising team lunches, free coffee, snacks, beer, vacations to the employees, membership to gyms at subsidized rates, some even allowing dogs to be brought to the office premises.

Another feature quite common in international startups is that they strive to encourage a multicultural diversity. This contributes to an enriching experience which comes from interacting with people from diverse backgrounds.

Since startup culture is dynamic and transient, it may seem much easier for a fresh college graduate to get accustomed to it or to “fit-in” with the culture, the so called “cultural fit”, rather than a seasoned player from the corporate world.

What is prominently discussed too as an inherent part of culture is values. Typically a startup would mirror the values of the founders, and as the company grows it becomes necessary to reiterate those values for the employees to imbibe.

On the flip side, given the nature of a startup, jobs may not be as long-lasting as in the corporate or government sectors and the crazy perks could end just as abruptly as they have been handed out, if the startup is not doing well and a cultural misfit may well mean the end of the road for that employee.

The long and erratic hours of work are bound to wreak havoc with a work-life balance and the constant pressure of having to adjust to a constantly changing environment, has its own setbacks. So anyone wanting to jump on to the bandwagon of a startup, needs to perforce weigh the pros and cons before doing so.

But times are a changing and the era belongs to the startup moguls! One could well be the richer in mind and spirit, if caught in the whirlwinds of the startup environs!

But in case the mind strays and wanders down these lines, penned by the Irish poet, W. H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare,

Then, the English poet Robert Frost, comes valiantly to the rescue, resonating the extraordinary, exhilarating experience that is a startup
I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Here’s 3 cheers to all the startups!