4 Kickass Things about Working with an Early Stage Company Right Out Of School

Matt Meisenbacher
March 26, 2015

I know we’re all sick of hearing about the tendencies of our own generation, so I promise I’ll keep the generalizations to a minimum. When I finished school, I wanted what I think everyone wanted: a sweet job, an apartment in Southie, a Jeep to get away on the weekends, you know, to be the traditional Boston twenty-something, but I could never really decide what that job part would look like.

I was lucky enough to land at LaunchSource and now I speak with college seniors and recent grads all the time about where they want to start their careers. Some people crave structure and are very happy with the prospect of a larger company, but for the most part, all it takes is my telling this story for them to decide that an early stage company is where they want to be.

We place candidates in entry level sales roles with early stage tech companies. That is what we do, but what do I do all day? Kind of whatever I want--allow me to explain further (before my boss gets ahold of this) about the way early stage companies attempt to manage their employees and all the awesome perks for those of us who run from structure and cookie cutters.

1. Autonomy- Every week, we sit down as a team and decide what needs to be done. The co-founders listen to us and we listen to them and we put together goals with rough timelines, each assigned to a person. In addition to these, we each have our area of the company that we are responsible for. For me, it’s talent acquisition. I screen and coordinate logistics with applicants to get them to interview day. No one counts my calls or emails or tells me when to make them, not because they don’t care, but because they believe in me, and they simply don’t have the time.

Startups and early stage companies are mini versions of bigger companies in that all the same stuff still needs to get done, there are just far fewer people to do it all. There isn’t any time for micromanaging and it’s sometimes really challenging, but there is nothing my CEO likes more than when I schedule time with him to show him a project when it is finished and implemented. Why? Because that is simply one less thing he has to worry about getting done, it’s one more box checked off the seemingly endless list.

A candidate told me just last week that throughout training with one of our clients, she heard the phrase “you run your own business” over and over again. Business Development Reps (BDRs) are assigned territories and verticals and then just go. The team of managers, inside sales reps, and other BDRs are there to help and support in any way they can, but if you find a way that works, you do it your way, and teach your friends if they’re interested in hearing. Results are what matter most in early stage companies, so if you’re into doing lots of stuff really, really well, I think this could be a good fit for you.

2. Culture - Every week I meet a new group of candidates and I drop some knowledge on them that is sometimes hard to swallow: you are going to spend a lot of time at your job, a lot of time, so make sure you find a job somewhere you want to be working.What do you want it to look and feel like when you walk into work everyday?

In tech, Google has set the tone and other companies have taken notice. It’s no longer the industry exception; it’s the expectation to have a cool office with weird couches and free cereal. It is also the expectation to have managers who manage and coach people as people who are capable of doing awesome things, instead of sheep herders running huge, faceless teams on aimless projects. My managers understand that we are humans, and humans like things like naps and cereal. You should see all the cereal, and if I need a nice ten minute snooze after lunch, I don’t have to pack up my things if I’m caught in the act.

Early stage companies get it, and they’re all about building teams of people that work well together and actually like one another. I want to be on a team that completes meaningful projects that help to move the company forward, and I want to do those projects with people who feel the same way. When speaking with a client of ours, he explained a relatively unorthodox part of their interview process called the canoe test.

After each interview, the interviewer needs to be able to answer a very simple question about the applicant, “If you were alone in a canoe with just this person, would you throw them overboard and paddle away?” They obviously evalutate other characteristics as well, but this makes a ton of sense to me. These companies want to do big things and rely on their employees to be a huge part of it, so why not be one of those employees?

3. Development - You will learn everything, especially if you start in a biz dev role. I have had very limited experiences working in larger organizations, but all of my miserable buddies complain that they are doing the same thing every day and that they hate their jobs. That also makes sense to me, I would be bored out of mind mainly because I wasn’t learning anything new!

Within weeks of starting, I was comfortable talking about our company to anyone, in any way: in person, on the phone, presenting to a room of clients, through email, literally anyone. How? Because they let me. My boss encouraged me to go to events and talk about what we do, and he brought me to meet clients and university deans, but mainly because I started working in business development.

If you’re going to work in one of these places, you have to buy in. They won’t hire you unless you are bought in. What we’ve found at LaunchSource is that a business development role is the best way to learn all of this. You are constantly talking to and emailing prospects about your company and what it does and how it makes its customers successful. That skill is invaluable anywhere you go. You also learn how to set up next steps, how to listen, and how to respond to what someone says, not just to talk when it’s your turn to talk.

You learn all of that doing your actual job, but you will do so much more than that. I’ve learned so many other lessons from simply being here, lessons I would never have learned in a manual, and from things that I needed to mess up a few times until I realized what I was doing wrong. The other piece is learning by example. I’ve learned so much from our own team, but also from all of the fantastic people we work with.

4. Recognition - Millenials love to build things, we’ve all heard that one. I love to build things, looks like they nailed the stereotype there. We are motivated by the importance of what we are doing. Give me a meaningless task and I will put zero effort into it, but if I understand that something has worth, and that it will help us to do something awesome, I will put my headphones in and beat up my keyboard until it is the best thing ever done. But once I’ve finished all that, I want to be recognized for it, and that’s ok.

Maybe we did get too many participation trophies growing up, but who cares? What’s done is done. When we do well, we want a pat on the back. We want to learn and to be a part of something that appreciates that we are a part of it. My personal favorite thing is to take on a task and to find a better way to do it than how it’s currently being done. It strokes my ego just right when I am the one who figured it out, and in an early stage company, that is also ok. To my boss, that is simply an improved internal efficiency which saves us time and money every day from now until someone one-ups me and finds an even better way.

Anyway, from one entitled millennial to another, go get a job at an early stage company and absolutely kill it. Be weird and different and challenge things that don’t make sense. Find that better way. Embrace the generational stigma and solve problems, learn everything you can, and I promise you’ll get that pat on your back you've always wanted. In the beginning, companies need employees that want to get shit done, who are constantly seeking more responsibility and development, so what better place to start?