Work at a Startup-How to Survive in a Rocket Ship Pt1

Work at a Startup – How to Survive in a Rocket Ship Pt.1

You just decided that you want to work at a startup. This is a serious decision that can change the direction of your career, and your future. In this article, you will learn some useful advice and tips that will help you prepare for taking this step. So, without further ado, let’s see how you can prepare yourself for work at a startup.

Work at a Startup How to Survive in a Rocket Ship part 2.

A brief overview

This mini series has two specific goals. The first goal is to make this step easier for you, and help you adapt to startup environment smoothly and quickly. The second goal is to help you make this a long-term experience, rather than some short-term stop. It is useful to have something to show in your CV. However, going from one job to another is not the best thing to do.

Having multiple jobs in a very short time frame doesn’t look good for employers, be a startup CEO or not. That is why I hope this mini series will help you not only get used to new environment quickly, but also stay there for a long time. What follows are advice and tips from my experiences and experience of other people I talked with.

Get comfortable with change

Any time you enter new environment, be it work, school or just anything else, it is very much normal that the first few weeks will be hectic. When you decide to work at a startup, getting into hectic environment is inevitable. Startup companies in general are famous for the amount of chaos. Things are changing on a daily basis and what was true yesterday no longer applies today. Put simply, the change is the only constant.

Everything can change

What are those things that can change? In case of a startup? Well, it can be basically everything. It can be something small, something not everyone will notice. For example, technologies used for the product, tools you use internally, equipment, food and drinks. It can also be something bigger and more personal. For example, that guy or girl you worked with yesterday may not come to work ever again.

Sure, it is nothing new, or specific for a startup, that people come and go. However, this sometimes happens more often in startups than in bigger and more established companies. This is not should not be surprising, when you consider the high demands put on everyone in the team. Some people can’t handle the pace of a startup well. They get stressed, even depressed. When this happens, deciding to leave is can be the best choice.

Bigger changes happen

Other big changes might include change of founding team, when one of the founders decides to leave or is forced to leave. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen as often because when it does it can seriously threaten the startup itself. Events such as this have a huge impact on the morale of all the people working there. In the worst case, some people decide to follow the ex-co-founder and leave as well.

Another examples of bigger changes that might happen are change of address of the company and your official work space or its name or brand. Then, there is this very well known thing called pivot. This is when the company decides that it is necessary to change its core offering, its product or service. By change, I mean completely. There will be smaller and bigger changes in the product every day.

When startup decides to make a pivot, it is often about dropping the whole idea that lead to the creation of the company. For example, the company might realize that its product or service is viable, but not as viable as it looked like. The market is not as big as was assumed or the adoption is not as high. Or, there might be some technical challenges that are currently either impossible to solve or too expensive to solve.

Then, there are changes that will have little to no direct effect on you and you may not even notice them, such as bringing new investors on the board or removing some current. If you know a bit about startups, you probably also know about raising capital through seed rounds. This is one way how to get some new VC on board. Then, there are also angles and FFF (friends, family and fools).

Unique opportunity

If you have no prior work experience adapting to this constantly changing environment will be much easier. When you think about it, daily life in many startups actually looks like a life on College or University. So, if you just finished or left school, it may not seem as such a big difference. You may even like it. If not, remember that you are about to enter a fluid and probably chaotic environment.

Embrace this as an opportunity to gain new experience, perspective and knowledge. You will learn a lot of things. You will also have the chance to discover environment you may never get into again. So, don’t get discouraged or scared by what you may have heard or read about some startup. Many of these stories are often more fairy tales than the reflection of what really happened. It is often just another way to gain some visibility. This is especially true about movies and TV shows.

So, take all these stories with a healthy dose of skepticism. Also, remember that all startups are bit different. The one you want to join might be one of those less chaotic, or more. Still, if you want to enter the world of startups, get comfortable with change. You can’t go wrong by doing so.

Become a learner

One thing that doesn’t work as much in startups are titles. Don’t get this wrong. Usually, everyone in the team has some official title. However, what these people really do often overlaps to other areas than their titles may suggest. This is normal. Don’t let this surprise you. Embrace it as a chance to learn something new, just like the chaotic and always changing nature and environment of startups.

This will require one thing. You have to become a learner. Also, adopt growth mindset. Stop seeing any of your skills as something fixed. Instead, believe that it is possible for you to learn whatever is necessary to get the job done. I saw many times that anyone can learn anything if she really wants to learn it. Then, learning the skill and acquiring necessary knowledge is a matter of time, effort, hard work and right approach.

This necessity of learning is why some people like to work for startups. It is also this, what often makes the whole experience so exciting and fresh, every day. If you are looking for some perks, this is one of them. Work at startup gives you the opportunity to learn something new almost every day, sometimes every. Embrace this as a great opportunity that may not repeat again in the future, or in other company.

Two frameworks for becoming a better learner

Two great frameworks for learning, I like to use very often, are DiSSS and CaFE. I learned both from book The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss. In the book, Tim applies these frameworks to learning many different subjects, from foreign languages to parkour, shooting, hunting and cooking. Let’s quickly take a look at both these frameworks and how you can start using them to learn new subjects, or make progress.

Note: both these frameworks, DiSSS and CaFE, can work independently and you can use one or the other. However, you will probably achieve much better results if you combine them and use both.


The first method is DiSSS. The name of this framework is made from words Deconstruction for D and Selection, Sequencing and Stakes for SSS. The “i” is just a connector. Deconstruction is about looking for the minimum learnable unit of knowledge. Break the skill down into bite-sized pieces and identify all fundamental principles as well as all failure points (potential roadblocks on the way).

Selection is about finding the minimum effective dose, the 20% of all learnable units that will lead to learning 80% of the skill or subject you want to learn. Think about the skill you want to learn and ask yourself. What will teach you the overall principles the fastest? What micro-skills are used throughout the skill? When you focus on these 20% you will significantly improve the speed at which you learn.

Sequencing is about putting those learnable units into correct and most effective order. There will be some units you will have to learn first before you can proceed. Then, look for ways how can you avoid the failure points, those potential roadblocks on the way that may slower or even stop your progress. Make the path to learning the fundamentals and micro-skills smooth and fast.

Stakes are about implementing psychological and social mechanisms that will help you sustain discipline and motivation and make it to the finish line. Learning anything new is sometimes, for some people often, uncomfortable. There are some phases when you are moving in an astonishing speed. Then, there are phases where you are stuck on something for days. It is at these moments when you will want to give up the most.

Prepare yourself for these phases by asking some simple questions. What rewards or punishments can you use to make sure you will follow through and not give up? Is there something you especially like or dislike? What about social accountability? Are there some people counting or even relying on you, in the company for example? You can also make your goal to learn something public and set a deadline.

Then, ask your teammates or friends to keep you accountable. You can set it up even as a friendly competition with your teammates, or a challenge. If you win, they will find something to reward you. If you lose, they will find something to punish you. In the end, work at startup should be fun, right. So, why not use learning as a way to achieve this outcome. This way, learning can be even a team building activity.


The second framework is CaFE. The name of this framework is made from words Compression for C, Frequency for F and Encoding for E. The “a” is again just a connector. Let’s start with Compression. Do you remember those 20% we discussed in “Selection” part of DiSSS? Compression is about finding a way to compress these information, these 20%, into a cheatsheet or infographic. In other words, put those 20% at one place.

Frequency is about looking for the best and most effective duration and frequency that will help you learn what you want to learn. Unfortunately, there is no golden rule or one-size-fits-all solution. You have to know yourself, your personal limits and your goals. Find what works for you. Then, create a learning schedule. For example, if you’re a slow learner, you will need more than just 10 minutes every day. Maybe 30.

On the other hand, if you are learning fast, short sessions of 10 minutes might be enough to reach your goal, before the deadline. Also, make sure to take into account the subject or skill you want to learn. Harder and more difficult subjects and skills will require more frequent and longer sessions than subjects that are easy and simple. So, adjust your schedule every time you want to learn something new.

Finally, encoding. This is about creating mental anchors, clues and tricks to make the knowledge more sticky. Learning something just so you can forget it a month later is almost waste of your time. So, how can you make sure that you will remember what you’ve learned? For example, you can create acronyms like DiSSS and CaFE. Or, some simple “rules of thumb”.

Another very popular methods for improving information retention, and memory in general, are method loci and phonetic mnemonic system. These methods can be a bit harder to learn and master. If you are not good with visualization, method loci can be a hard nut to crack. Don’t get discouraged. You will get better at it with practice. The same applies to phonetic mnemonic system. Have patience.

Finding the best method and framework for learning

Is there some best method? I don’t think so. It is like with searching the best tool for X. There is no such a thing. There is only the tool that works for you. This means one thing. You will have to experiment. Try different methods and frameworks and find what works for you. One thing. Try to avoid those that depends on external tools or specific conditions, at least in the beginning.

Anything method and framework that depends on something else will only restrict you and how you can use it. So, look for methods and frameworks you can use anywhere and any time. And, if you are somewhat hesitant to spend your time, effort and energy learning these frameworks and methods, think about this. What you are about to do is a great investment into yourself. When you learn these frameworks and methods, you will never regret it. You can use them in through your life to learn and remember any subject and skill.

Closing thoughts on work at a startup

This all for this first part. I hope you enjoyed this article and the two advice we discussed today will be useful for you. It doesn’t matter whether it is a startup or some big company, or anything else. Getting new job is always a big step that will have impact on your career and life. So, think and prepare first. Then, take the leap. With that, thank you for your time and have a great day!

Do you have any questions, recommendations, thoughts, advice or tip you would like to share with other readers of this blog, and me? Great! Please share it in a comment. Or, if you want to keep things more "private", feel free to contact me on twitter or send me a mail. I would love to hear from you.

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