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Five lessons I’ve learned in my first three months at a startup

Group of people working together at a table

I recently joined Flock, a collaboration and communication software company, based in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Boston. Flock is my first experience at a startup and at first, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for it.

If you’re interested in how my first week went, check out my post here.

Three quick months have passed since I published that post. I’m so appreciative of all the opportunities working at a startup has given me. Since day one I’ve been incredibly engaged and challenged because there is so much interesting work to do: blog strategy, landing page copy, creative design, social, etc. I also hired an amazing team of content marketers who are already making an impact. It’s clear to me that the best days are yet to come.

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Although my experience is unique, I thought it might be helpful to share my story. Here are the five things I’ve learned in my first three months at a startup that have helped me be successful.

Man singing 'be succesful'

1. Ruthlessly prioritize

At a startup, there is SO much you can do, but it doesn’t mean you should do it. I’ve fallen prey to trying to tackle everything, and my manager has reeled me in time and time again.

“Some fires have to burn,” he tells me.

But as an A-student, I needed everything to be perfect and attended to. That mentality has carried over to my career, and I’ve realized that creating a focus for myself and my team helps us understand what will move the needle. Something big may come up, but I have to be able to relate the issue back to my team's goals. Then I can decide if it’s something that’s worth our time.

Will throwing new things at the team help them or will it make them feel overwhelmed and scattered?

2. Chip in and communicate

Being relentlessly focused on goals is a good thing, but sometimes projects with greater magnitude crop up. At a startup, you have to be comfortable pivoting or doing jobs outside of your job description for the benefit of the company. We ultimately share the same goal, after all.

Sometimes knowing when to chip in and when to pass something up is really hard. Luckily, I am able to gauge if a request merits my team’s time because we share what projects are a top priority across the company. It would be so much more difficult to know when to step in or when to let things go without a clear and consistent stream of communication from my colleagues.

3. It’s okay to admit you don’t know something and ask for help

Repeat after me: It’s okay to say, “I don’t know how to do this.” We are humans, not endless fonts of knowledge. It is not possible for a person to know everything about everything.

I don’t see my gaps in knowledge as a weakness, and I don’t pretend to hide it. Why should I when I have colleagues across the company who are experts in the thing I know least about (cough, SEO). If I'm open about wanting to learn more, I am empowered to go to them and ask for help.

On the flip side, I’ve had peers openly let me know what they’re not good at and ask me for help. What a gift that is, to have a colleague be vulnerable enough to ask for your input. And you know what happened? We collaborated, built mutual respect and trust, and turned a campaign that was just okay into something great.

A team motto at Flock is “Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for help.” Don’t be afraid to do it.

4. Assume good intent and take responsibility when things go sideways

When things happen quickly, mistakes tend to happen. Early on at Flock I adjusted the description of our App Store listing. I used a boilerplate that was in our Play Store listing for consistency, which I thought was a good thing. Well, our app listing ended up being rejected because that boilerplate mentioned direct competitors to the App store.

Aww, crap.

Once we found out why we were delisted, I took responsibility for causing the mess, apologized with no caveat, and that was that.

In the end, the offending copy was removed, the app was resubmitted, and I did not hear one more thing on the matter. Why? Because everyone—my VP, the product manager, and tech leads—assumed I had good intentions in making those edits. They knew I didn’t want our app to be delisted and I stepped up and made it clear it was on me.

Adults take responsibility and give each other the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad that’s part of the culture at Flock.

5. Culture only happens through effort

The previous anecdote leads me to my last point. Companies don’t spontaneously end up diverse or transparent or welcoming. Culture is created through effort. People—especially people in leadership positions—set the tone on what a company culture will be.

I grappled with loneliness in my first week at Flock. It’s easy to feel unsure and lonely when you start a new job. Luckily at Flock, all I needed was time to get to know my new coworkers. Multiple people have stepped up to coordinate happy hours, team outings, and lunch events to help the team get to know each other on a personal level. It’s heartening to see everyone take an active interest in fostering a positive and inclusive culture. It’s something we tremendously benefit from.

At Flock, we strive to be transparent, use radical candor, and treat each other with mutual respect because that’s the kind of company we want to be. I’ve never been more excited to see what the future holds. #FlockOn

The Flock Way