Starting with Startups

Rolled up sleeves and (still) getting down and dirty

I consider it my greatest privilege to be part of several startups since the first time I walked into a job interview in May of 1996. Seven years, over a thousand employees and a chain of acquisitions later, I decided to join another startup selling anything made of paper, online.

Like most startups, our first days at work was like endless sleepovers, with our office doubling as a halfway home. An uncle loaned us our first computer with a desk and we had a plastic stool that we used as a step-ladder when replacing a busted light bulb. Oftentimes we would make do with a rug on the floor for our ‘office’ if our pet rabbits didn’t make a mess on it first. It was fun (and stressful) to devour sales books to get a handful of new ideas to make our daily sales targets. The internet wasn’t as powerful in the early 2000s and e-commerce was just beginning to make waves. Seven years, 250 employees and 2 acquisitions later, it was time to join another startup.

I’m a serial startup starter and supporter. I love working with people that aren’t afraid to sell, whether it’s an idea or a product. I’ve ghost-written hundreds of content pieces talking about how to engage employees and customers alike. Whenever my team and I have our occasional coffee-white-boarding sessions, I make it a rule for people to contribute their ideas by asking themselves (and others), “What if…?” I like it when our team rallies behind an idea enough to storm excitedly into the office as if they’ve discovered something life-changing and can’t wait to spread the news! I’ve long since changed my pre-disposition to pulling in all-nighters. Instead, I encourage collaboration and idea-boarding, flexibility, mobility, transparency and accountability more.

I’ve always believed that it takes a certain boldness to join a startup company–and if anyone is bold enough to join, there should be no stopping anyone to put in his share in making a difference. The only rule I have that worked so far is this: “You can make your presence or your absence felt, but remember that whichever you choose…No one is indispensable. No one.”

One of the most important reasons why I write about my experience is because I believe in the way stories transform people. I also love to read about other people’s experiences–especially the ‘greats’ who have passed on but remain to be large thought influencers, those I’m not likely to meet in person. It strikes me that I share some things with them and have completely different views than others. In some ways, I’ve learned that we’re not all that different. Learning about other startup owners, entrepreneurs who have failed, risen and overcome obstacles makes me kinder and a lot more tolerant of myself and people who disappoint. Sure, I take my work seriously but never myself.

2017. Twenty one years of working. Met hundreds of amazing people and had taken some bumpy and twisting roads. Up to now, I can’t say that I know half of what I should in business but I am more conscious of what I don’t know and I am more keen on learning from others and more careful in taking risks.

21 years of startup work experience. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like enough still, because I have a lot to learn and experience. When I finally decide to up my game, it won’t simply be deciding to retire rich and set for the rest of my life and yet not really live on my way there. The picture in my head of what it’s like happens more like one day at a time. I’ve yet to destroy the myth that working with conglomerates is the best way to achieve stability. 21 years has kept me grounded and still sane in spite of the insanity of working with startups. At the end of each day, I’ve learned to do just the best I can with what I have, where I am. And tomorrow, if I live to see another day, resolve to do better and be better than today.