Principles for a successful career in startups and scaleups

Having a career in a startup is on the bucket list of a lot of people, but making it happen can be chaotic, so here are 8 expert tips.

Unlocking tech talent stories

March 10, 2022

Working in a startup is on the bucket list of a lot of people, but making it happen can be chaotic.

Where should I start? What should I avoid? How can I adjust my steps toward my goals? What are my goals? Ok, now I’m here – how do I survive this?

Worry not—we’ve got good news for you!

Back in October we had the pleasure of hosting our Future.Works Lisbon Tech Conference 2021. One of our invited speakers was Ferdinand Goetzen, who led marketing teams in different companies and has now his own project (Reveall)—all before the age of 30. 

We prepared this short synopsis so you can get a taste of the valuable knowledge Ferdinand dropped:

1. Define success for yourself

What does it really mean to be successful? 

If you ask this question to several different people you’ll probably also get different answers. The definition of success varies from person to person, and that’s ok. We all have our own perception of success.

This is a question that you need to ask yourself and come up with your own response—try not to be influenced by the people around you while you do this exercise.

2. Choose the right company

This one is especially important in the tech/startup/scaleup world. If you choose the right company you will grow with it, and if you choose the wrong company you’ll struggle in a lot of ways.

The kind of roles you have will also make other people define how they perceive you and what sort of opportunities will be thrown your way.

The “right company” doesn’t mean that you need to choose the biggest, loudest, and most important; it just means choosing a role and a company that suits you and your strengths, and that’ll help you achieve your goals

Pick a company that stands out in things that you want to improve, and that will always challenge and help you grow.

3. Know how to sell yourself

It’s important that you know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, and how you present yourself (be it in an interview, in a negotiation, in a partnership meeting, etc). 

You need to know why you’re awesome, what makes you awesome, and how you can communicate that effectively.

It’s very common for people to have amazing things to talk about, but they don’t. We see this a lot in interviews, CV’s, and LinkedIn profiles.

To have an effective CV/LinkedIn profile, it’s paramount to focus on what matters and is relevant for the role. Be specific and don’t fill your CV with a bunch of meaningless job titles or hobbies; don’t clutter!

If you don’t have experience or you’re making a career switch, talk about the things in your life that show that you’re passionate. What did you do in your life that proves this statement?

4. Always keep learning

The blogger Scott Adams has a quote in which he explains how you can be extraordinarily successful: 

  1. You can become the best at one specific thing and be a specialist;
  2. You can be very good (top 25%) at two or three things and be a generalist.

Both specialists and generalists can be successful. 

However, if you’re a generalist that does a whole lot of things, you’re probably not going to be in the top 25% at any of those things. If you can, choose two or three things at which you can become really good and be honest about it—you can always find a way to outsource what you can’t do, or build a team with different skills.

The sooner you decide if you’d prefer being a specialist or generalist, the better. This way you can start building and making choices that will support that decision in the long term. 

5. Create opportunities

This is really what separates startups from corporations.

The lack of structure we see on startups creates opportunity. This high risk environment also brings high rewards, as opposed to corporate.

In a startup you can be promoted very fast and have a lot of responsibilities over your shoulder rather quickly, when in corporate things usually take longer to step up.

In a startup nothing will be given, but everything is for the taking!

6. Learn stakeholder management

Knowing how to deal with stakeholders and make the most out of them is an important skill to learn early, especially in the startup world.

Understand what kind of stakeholders you have, and how you can manage them best.

If they have a lot of influence within the company and a lot of interest in what you’re doing, they’re going to be high maintenance and you should involve them in the decision making process. If they have lots of influence but no interest, you just need to not mess it up.

7. Don’t over do it

Give 100% of yourself, but not 120% – even if it’s tempting. Those extra 20% will perhaps only produce 2% extra results and get you burned out, which is counter-productive.

Take care of yourself and do everything you can to avoid burnout. 

8. Hope for luck

Luck and privilege do play a part. You’ll always need to put in the hours and do the work—no way around that—but it’s important to admit that luck is a factor.

However, sitting around waiting for it might not be enough – you need to create situations that will attract luck, you need to find a way to put yourself in the right place at the right time. 

If you see that opportunity, you need to take it.

Wrapping it up

…and now you have the opportunity to click on this link and watch the whole talk (was this transition smooth, or what?).

This article is just a juicy teaser of the real deal—if you want to know why having “ninja” on your CV is terrible or learn how to deal with visionaries or pace-setters stakeholders (and much more)… click here!

The UK’s tech flagship event, London Tech Week, will be back on 13-17 June with 60+ in-person and virtual events welcoming 20,000+ global government and corporate leaders, inspirational founders, senior investors and tech rising stars.

Together, they will debate the vital role of technology in society, the latest tech breakthroughs and what the future holds for a vibrant community of bold and bright entrepreneurs. Find out more here! 👈

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