Jaakko Paalanen – 5 reasons I love working at a startup

Jaakko Paalanen – 5 reasons I love working at a startup

04 September 2020

Sunny Silicon Valley, Palo Alto Calif… Oh sorry! Dark winter time in the freezing city center of Helsinki, capital of Finland. Nowadays a well-known city for the European startup world, after Slush became one of the biggest startup events in the world.

I arrive at the office at 7am and turn on the lights. My co-worker wakes up from the couch. He’s been coding into the night and didn’t think there was any point going home before coming back to work again. We laugh about his arrangement and turn the coffee machine on. Sometimes we work at totally different times of the day, but in a startup that’s not a problem. If the guidelines and remote work policies are in order, then it doesn’t matter what time you work or from where you work – as long as it’s efficient.

The key thing for a successful startup is to find multi-talented individuals, who can create something new and solve problems for growing a business. They have to believe that they really can change the world. I got a great quote from our friend and tech blogger, Dennis Mitzner, who writes for TechCrunch and The Next Web and other publications:

Startups are not for one-trick ponies. Top companies have understood the value of employees who are interdisciplinary. Nimble, malleable minds can approach the company’s problem areas and areas of strength from a multitude of angles.”

I’m not judging the corporate world in any way – it’s the other side of the coin – but here are my takes on why working at a startup is so awesome!

1. You can wear many different hats

Limited resources set limits, which means you can’t have experts for each discipline that’s required. That means you have to hire people who are good at doing multiple different tasks and quick to learn. As your startup company evolves, in the same way your employees need to evolve and scale with it. It’s not that unusual for my day to consist of partner meetings, customer support activities, blog content creation and maybe even some “coding” + website translations.

Wear many hats

One of the most frequent complaints about the corporate world is that you are stuck with the same main task all the time, every day. Wearing different hats allows you to gain a wide skillset, which is very valuable experience for the future. You try stuff – even things you think you won’t like – and it goes well. Constant self-learning is a big and important part of working in a startup and evolving with it.

2. More responsibility

You are of course responsible for what you personally do, but in a startup that can be e.g. 50% of the sales or marketing efforts of the entire company. Or perhaps it’s your development of the IT infrastructure, and it covers ⅓ of your whole development team’s work. Overall when you do something, it will definitely be visible for your teammates and for the whole company. That’s what makes it so interesting – that feeling of success. If you create a marketing campaign or build new features for your SaaS tool, it will be noticed, whether good or bad. The point is, it really matters what you do.

pour me coffee and i excel

At a startup you’ll be one of fewer people and therefore be a more important part of the company. You might become the defacto guy for e.g. blog writing – creating beautiful graphic designs, or the Ruby on Rails guru who knows everything and on whom team members rely when going forward with the software. It also happened to me. After just a few weeks working at Leadfeeder, I took over our partnership and cooperation strategy, and now that is my main task. I get to use my good people and sales management skills with strategic orientation, which is great.

3. Learn from highly talented people

One of the best bits of working in a startup is your colleagues. I’m surrounded by highly talented and motivated people who possess all sorts of knowledge because they have to wear many hats on a daily basis. Smaller team sizes allow you to partly participate in the software guys’ daily routines, and learning happens both ways. When software engineers explain their ideas and it’s combined with what the business development team thinks customers want, the innovation process for product development is outstandingly effective!

facepalm with a book

Also worth mentioning is to work with people who own and run already several great companies and have done successful exits before. The motivation they give is beyond amazing. Basically you can compare it to learning every day from your corporate executives, who would sit opposite of your desk day by day. But we know that isn’t going to happen.

4. The working atmosphere is dynamic

As I described at the beginning with our sleeping software engineer, the atmosphere is unique. I’m convinced that we laugh more in a day that we would at a typical company, both in the office and through online channels when working remotely. Oh, and did I mention that remote work is a must for us when building a distributed organisation? Work from wherever you want, as long as you get the job done. I mainly work from the office but sometimes I choose home or an atmospheric coffee shop in downtown Helsinki. Later this year I plan to go work from a beach somewhere warm. I just need my laptop, mobile phone and a decent WiFi connection.

thinking my head off

Great startups tend to be very transparent; in our case all of the key performance indicators are visible to everyone working for the company. We don’t make an exception with that, in fact, we have 3 TV screens around the office showing key stats from sales, marketing and software development. These are visible for everyone so that we know what is going on and how we are doing.

5. Create something of your own and see the growth

In a startup, it’s not about leading “top-down” or a “command and control” way of working, it’s more about self-leadership. You have to learn fast and figure out how to do things. You can do things the way you want, but remember it has to result in something real. Educate yourself and be the best in your field. Remember, life is hard when you do easy things, but it gets easy when you do hard things.

drawing awesome drafts

Exceed all expectations and like a wise man once told me, always work a bit more than is expected. Build something new and make a difference at your company. You get to have ownership without needing your title to include the word “executive”. What I really like about working in a startup is the chance to dream of becoming something revolutionary and being a part of that team.

There’s a lot of competition, but there are many things you can do to make your startup succeed and be better than others. So go for it! Join a startup and push them towards success!

If you find startup life compelling, check out our jobs page.

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