As a talent acquisition professional in NYC’s “Silicon Alley,” I am consistently asked, “What does it take to make it in a tech startup?” I’ve hired hundreds of folks in engineering, sales, marketing, product, operations and even manufacturing (to be clear, it was 3D printing), and diversity has always been paramount. So, how do I codify what makes someone a “startup person?”
I began by thinking about the folks who have truly flourished in young or growing companies. Some of them are my colleagues now, and some have gone on to start businesses of their own. What are the core competencies, personality traits, and experiences that truly unite these people? What makes someone more suited for roles in established businesses vs. roles in new or growing businesses?
This should be easy, right? I mean, I interview people all day long and close candidates for Curalate on a weekly basis. So I asked myself, “What is it that’s so compelling about some candidates and not others?”
After brainstorming for some time, I narrowed the list down to seven words that seem to describe every person I have considered an “A-player” since I entered the startup ecosystem:
While there are clearly plenty of folks in established businesses that embody these traits, I have come to realize that these are almost “non-negotiables” if you want to make your mark in tech startups. So let’s unpack these qualities and assess why they are so crucial to success.
While any manager would argue that drive is crucial to performing well in any position, drive is absolutely essential when you are joining a business that’s in its infancy. Startups are risky, and if you don’t have the momentum or will to achieve, the challenges associated with growing a business can seem insurmountable. It’s that pang in your gut that continues to propel you forward, even though sometimes you just want to wave the white flag and surrender.
In startups, and particularly in tech, ideas and products change and evolve at an accelerated pace. One day you are on top, and the next you have a sea of competitors. You absolutely cannot rest on your laurels—regardless of your function—or you will surely be surpassed. At the same time, flexibility is key, and being nimble enough to respond to changing demands, needs, etc. is fundamental.
Let’s be honest. You can’t do everything on your own, and you are going to need a team to rely on, delegate to and hit goals with. This is not a solo show, and you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. In tech startups you work long, often grueling hours (that’s what it takes to grow a business!) and one person isn’t going to carry an entire company. You have to be willing to take the lead, fall back, reorganize (agility!) and lean on the folks around you. If you aren’t willing to roll up your sleeves and often do things outside of your job description or comfort zone for the good of the team, startup life is not for you.
One of the things that is indicative of startups is a lack of resources. That could include liquid capital, people, technology or a whole host of other things. As cliche as it may sound, “A-players” in tech startups simply make sh*t happen. Figuring out hacks, work-arounds and getting creative with what you have is at the core of everything that we do, and it’s how we survive.
I know, I know, this one is obvious, but I think having that entrepreneurial mindset, no matter what role you are in, is essential. I like to think of everyone as mini-CEOs of their areas of responsibility. There’s not a lot of hand-holding or structure in startups, so you have to be ok with owning your sphere of work. That means being ambitious, working autonomously, taking risks, failing quickly, failing often and then learning from those failures.
Nothing is going to get you through the hardships, missteps and failures if you don’t have a burning passion for what you are doing/building. If you aren’t passionate about your work, the product, the industry, you simply won’t be able to get over the inevitable tough times that every growing business experiences. Additionally, working long hours, solving tough problems and throwing yourself into your work can be truly miserable if you aren’t passionate about what you are building.
I’m going to throw “a bias towards execution” in here as well. Intelligence can carry you along in many professions, but if you aren’t strategic, you will have a hard time making an impact in startups. Always thinking two steps ahead, planning your next move and being proactive with a clear strategy in mind, is paramount. That said, if you can’t execute on your strategy, you might as well pack your bags. In an evolutionary environment, you have to think critically and into the future, and then you have to be able to make that strategy a reality.
So there you have it, the seven qualities that are essential to “making it” in a tech startup. And while I don’t actually think startups are for everyone—in fact I’d venture to say that startups are probably not for most people—I can assure you that when I embark on a search for Curalate, I am looking for precisely these traits.
Interested in working for an innovative, fast-growing company like Curalate? Check out our job openings here.