You hear a lot about startups today, and—in many ways—they’ve become the new “it” places to work. From Silicon Valley to New York City, all of that chatter about foosball tables, kegerators, and relaxed work environments (flip flops, anyone?) is enough to draw anyone in.
However, for many, the appeal of startup life and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a potentially booming company far outweighs the potential drawbacks. But that’s not the case for everyone. We talked with an Office Manager who bid adieu to her job at a well-known, thriving startup in order to jump onboard with a nonprofit.
Read on to learn more about about her story, startup life, and why company culture involves a whole lot more than bean bag chairs and catered lunches.
Getting Started With a Startup
Julianne (name has been changed) began her career working at a small law firm. The position was safe and comfortable. But, after a couple of years in that role, she was itching to feel a little more challenged and fulfilled by her work. Since she had no intention of actually attending law school, it became clear to her that she needed to hit the road.
It was then that she began to do some thinking about what she ultimately wanted out of her career. “My older sister has always worked in the startup world, so she connected me with some people to help build my network,” she explains.
When Julianne saw an office manager role posted with an up-and-coming startup, she decided to throw her hat into the ring. “They had just gone through a Series A, their team was growing rapidly, and they were only getting great press,” she explains. “There was a heavy emphasis on culture—which is something that I realized upon researching that I was missing from my work experience—and employees. I also won’t lie—the idea of working at a cool startup is really intriguing. It seems fun and young. There’s this idea that you’ll walk into open concepts, bean bags, and happy hours.”
She was excited about the potential role, but also had a few nerves.
I was nervous about whether I could keep up. There was also a fear of workplace socializing and making friends. I think as an introvert, the collaboration and heavy-on-social culture really scared me. You feel like the new kid in school—except when you’re an adult, I feel that it’s an even more nerve-wracking feeling.
Life at a Startup
Spoiler alert: Julianne landed the job, and began her new role in a work environment that was pretty different from the small law firm that she had worked in previously.
There were things that she loved about her company—particularly the people. The team she was able to work with was what made the startup experience so special and rewarding for her. “There’s always this idea that young people who work in startups drink beer all day and play ping pong. Is that true? Maybe. But these same young people are also very good at their jobs and work really hard.”
And, in Julianne’s eyes, the spirit of camaraderie couldn’t be beat either. “Walking into that energy and vibe every day is really what makes the everyday life of working in a startup worth it. You don’t always have the chance or opportunity to be surrounded by awesome people doing awesome work,” she adds.
But even with the numerous positive qualities, after a while, Julianne began to realize she just might not be suited for life at a startup.
In a work situation, I want to know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what I can do to prepare. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with startups. Call me an ‘old-school’ millennial—I like a very distinct work/life balance. When I am not working, I do not want to be working. And, while I don’t have a problem with weird hours or helping out an office full of people, I do get burnt out easily when I’m responding to emails or chats at midnight.
One more thing Julianne notes is that, while the constant change in a startup environment can be thrilling, it can also be a little exhausting. As startups grow, evolve, and change, aspects of their culture and the people who work there change along with it. “Sometimes, you just outgrow a company,” says Julianne, “And in a startup, it can happen very quickly.”
Making the Transition
After a little over a year of working in her startup role, Julianne decided she needed to try something new. While the awesome team she worked with at the startup made it that much harder to say her goodbyes, she choked back her emotions and made yet another large workplace shift—joining the nonprofit world. And, although her new role might not be as hip or trendy as a position with a startup, she’s happy with the change she decided to make.
“The office is smaller and won’t go into a hyper growth mode—as an introvert, this is good for me! But I’m still in a position to meet some pretty cool people who will help me continue to learn and grow as a professional,” she explains.
Although her new office doesn’t boast slides between floors or tons of free swag, she’s found that there’s a lot more to culture than that.
My new supervisor holds happiness at a really high standard here. Sure, the perks may be different—I don’t have free catered lunches or beer in the fridge—but the culture is still very strong. Our team works together nicely, and we help each other because we want to and know it’s the only way to move forward.
If there’s one thing that Julianne took from her time at a startup, it’s that being scrappy and innovative can help you in the workplace—regardless of what environment you find yourself working in. “Sometimes, great tools and resources cost money—and not every company has access to an unlimited budget,” she elaborates, “Working in a startup forced me to be creative. So today, I use free tools like Death to Stock for beautiful photos or Canva for any quasi-graphic designing I need to do and rely on my contacts.”
Of course, resourcefulness aside, Julianne also walked away with some valuable lessons—lessons that are applicable to any Ninja. First, you need to be open to change. In your career, change is inevitable, and you need to be able to roll with the punches if you truly want to grow.
Perhaps the very best lesson Julianne can share with Ninjas? You are the master of your own career. If something isn’t working for you, it’s up to you to change it. So when it comes to your own happiness, always remember Julianne’s story and her own wise words:
If you don’t feel like you’re thriving or, after some time, you don’t feel fulfilled, it is totally OK to leave your job for something else.
Company culture isn’t all about perks—although, the two are often confused. What element of workplace culture is the most important to you?