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My Tour of Duty with a Startup

Oswald YeoOswald Yeo

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

In August 2013, a startup was founded by 3 founders, and 2 years later, I decided to join them officially as a part-time intern in their marketing team, and was with them for 10 months. During my time with the startup, not only did I learn more about the startup world and the company, I also learnt a lot about myself.

Towards the end of my journey with the startup, my in-charge told me that everyone in the startup world goes through a tour of duty. Like soldiers who go through a certain number of years on the battlefield in hostile environments, so do people who join startups. But for them, their tour of duty means they fulfil a certain number of years in a startup before moving on, and in a way this was like my tour of duty.

So here are 6 things I took away at the end of my journey with the company, and if you want to know which company I’m talking about, read until the end.

Go above and beyond your job scope

I joined the company as an Editor and helped the company maintain their blog and manage their writers. However, along the way, I was given additional tasks and my role slowly involved into a marketing and administrative role.

Over time I started to learn how to communicate with the company’s users and help them out with their problems. On top of that I was also involved in the marketing efforts of some of our clients, which meant that there were times I needed to attend and help out at events or workshops.

As someone that loves to learn new things and grow, all of these were exciting to me, and I was glad to help out the company in whatever way I could. Although my role was originally that of an Editor, my responsibilities did not just stop at being an Editor.

In a startup, everyone is expected to do a few things that aren’t part of their original job scope. If you ever decide to join a startup as part of your career in future, know that sometimes you will need to go above and beyond your job scope to help out the company.

Come in with an open mind, and learn all that you can. Because being a graduate doesn’t mean the learning stops there. In fact, the real learning starts the moment you leave the school.

Learn to let go of certain things

Each and every one of us has certain commitments in our lives, and it is important to prioritise them. However, there are times when you need to let go of a few things.

In my case, when I was with the company I was juggling a lot of things in my life. I not only had to attend my lessons, I had a piano exam that was coming up, Aikido practice to go to, relationships to manage, have another part-time job as a Barista, and exams to study for.

With all of these commitments in my life I realized I had to let some things go because I was burning myself out fast. So at the end of the day I decided to quit my other job as a Barista, put my Aikido practice on hold, and signed up for a later exam date for my piano.

It isn’t easy letting go of something that you love, but there are times when you need to let go of them temporarily in order to excel at the things you are currently working at.

Being in a startup means sacrificing certain things that are dear to you. This could be more time spent with your family and friends, or even that hobby you used to enjoy going to. But at the end of the day, every one of us enjoys our work in the company, and all of us are working together to make our dreams come true.

Inside everyone is the desire to be right

When I first entered the company, I was a know-it-all. I thought I was the best employee the company could ever have because of how hard I worked, and I believed I could help the company.

But what I didn’t realize at that time was that being in a startup isn’t the same as being in school where the harder you work, the more you are recognized for your effort. In a startup, everyone holds equal weight and all of us work equally hard. There is not one person in the company that is special or better than the other, because all of us are learning as we go along.

For me one of the things that I struggled with was handling criticism when it came to my writing. I didn’t like it when someone criticized my writing and thought the person was being unreasonable. But the reality was that I was the one that was being unreasonable, and I was too proud to admit that I was wrong.

By the time I left the company, I realized that it is only when people stop criticizing you that you should be worried. The reason why people criticize your work is because they want you to improve, and I learnt that the hard way.

At the end of my journey with the startup I had learnt to throw away my pride and ego, and start listening.

Not everything you see on the surface is as glamorous as it seems

There will be times when you see on the media or newspapers announcing that a startup has attracted thousands of dollars in funding. Or maybe an employee of a startup walked away with millions of dollars due to the equity he or she holds in the company.

Sounds glamorous?

But what most people don’t realize is that behind all of those numbers and achievements are a team of determined people and a whole lot of hours being put in to make sure the company fulfils it’s target. Behind a single newspaper article, is a year of hardwork being put into the company, and often times the founders and even the employees themselves are receiving below the average graduate’s pay.

Not every startup becomes the next Google or UBER. But all startups are built on dreams, and it is those dreams that lead us to do what we do despite the insane amount of work and minimal pay.

To be a leader and to be a boss are like two opposite sides of a coin

We all like to believe that given the chance to lead all of us would be able to shine and be a great leader. But the reality is that you won’t know if you will be a great leader until you try to do it.

When I was working in the startup I was managing a group of writers and was helping out someone within the team with a client. I thought I was doing ok when it came to managing them. But reality struck me when my in-charge decided to conduct an anonymous peer review of each other and give each other comments on how to improve.

One of them said that I was being a boss and not a leader, and that the way I was handling certain things wasn’t right. Needless to say I was affected by those words and it got me thinking. Can I really lead if given the chance again in future.

Looking back, I realized that part of the problem when I was leading was my need to please others. By trying to please everyone I was pleasing no one. But I was glad I managed to receive that feedback in the end before I left. Because it allowed me to see what was wrong and think about how I can make it better.

Stop finding problems, and start finding solutions

“So what should we do?” This was something I was often told when I was working in the startup. It’s easy to find problems with a solution or problems that the company should solve, and in school it’s easy to go up to your teacher or professor and tell them the problems you have expecting them to answer your problems for you.

But in a startup or any company that you are working at, once you bring up the problem you need to follow it by a solution or what you feel should be done and how the company should go about doing it. At the same time, don’t let this discourage you from bringing up issues, because keeping silent about something is always worse than voicing it out and letting the team know about it and brainstorm how to solve it together.

At the end of my journey with the startup I decided to make it a habit to start finding solutions rather than the problems, and am still working on it.

So now that you’ve reached the end, what startup am I talking about? Look at the first alphabet on each lesson that I’ve learnt, and you will find out the company that I’ve been talking about.

At the end of the day, as a writer, I try my best to express what I felt and what I learnt during my time with the company, and how it was like being part of their team. But in the end, the best way to really show you what the company is like behind the scenes is through images.





To the Glints Family,

 Thank You. It’s been a hell of a journey!

– Chrysalis

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