What I’ve Learned After Four Months at a Startup

This is the second post in a periodical series chronicling my ups and downs transitioning from the corporate world to a fast past startup. In my first similarly-themed post a few months ago, I shared what I felt were some essential lessons I’d learned after just a month’s time working at a fast-paced marketing technology startup in Boulder, Colorado. Rereading that post, all four of the lessons I learned still hold true - now four months in - while additional lessons have cropped in.

I value every hour of my time spent working for Kapost (which covers a lot of hours), and what I include here are things that have made my time worthwhile. While it might go without saying, it’s worth noting these thoughts are entirely my own and do not reflect the viewpoints of my employer or coworkers, though the latter part might not be as big of an issue because…

We’re All In It Together

In a recent coffee shop conversation with our Sr. Director of Content Marketing Jesse Noyes, I described how challenging my time at Kapost has already been. While I tend to thrive when I’m stretched thin, this job is certainly testing my upper limits, primarily because I’m doing a lot of things I have never done before. I have brand new responsibilities and brand new accountability in a lot of areas where no precedent exits, neither in my career nor at the company.

I have no idea what I'm doing.

While I’m thoroughly enjoying my work, there’s certainly a great deal of unique stress that goes with being a trailblazer. But that’s the thing. I’m a trailblazer on a team of trailblazers. Jesse noted how he feels our marketing team is clicking so well with each other because we’re all stretched in ways we’ve never been before. Each and every one of us is facing new pressures and new stresses.

On the flip side, we’re all experiencing new triumphs as well. The point is there’s a common understanding of the intensity of our situation and we all share in the highs and lows together - high-fiving and disco ball dancing when it’s good, and drinking together when it’s tough. Which brings me to my next point.

There’s Drinking

When stress levels are elevated, there are a variety of healthy ways to relieve tension, especially when you work and live in a super active place like Boulder, Colorado - as most of us at Kapost do. We all have a variety of stress relievers including healthy exercise like running, hiking, biking, yoga, rock climbing, as well as other tension tamers like hourly walks around the block for fresh air, soothing tea and, well, booze.

These guys have life figured out.

Kapost is not one of those fancy startups with a built-in kegerator, but our CEO Toby does do a great job of making sure our fridge is at least partially stocked with Colorado craft brews and PBRs. He’s also great about walking around on Friday afternoons making sure those who could use a brew have one in hand. The company sponsors a monthly all-company happy hour as well.

Content Fuel

When I mention these facts to my friends with more traditional jobs (especially my schoolteacher fiancée), they tend to think we’re this super relaxed, anything goes workplace. It’s actual quite the opposite. The beer and drinking exists to help us slow down after fast paced days and weeks. It also contributes to the camaraderie referenced above.

Teetotalers and casual imbibers are not immune to this section. Whether you drink or not, you have to acknowledge the gesture behind offering a drink up. It’s a sign of acknowledgment. Beer, wine and liquor have long been used as tools for “cheers”, and offering to buy a drink for someone or providing a group of people who work very hard with some cold beverages to enjoy shows appreciation and a tip of the cap. It says, “You’ve worked hard. Drink up.”

Many startups offer booze as merely a recruiting tool, but for the most part I choose to believe it’s symbolic of a greater trust in and admiration for the work ethic of the team you’ve hired. However...

Even in a Company with “No Jerks” Some Jerk Will Steal Your Beer

This sticky note used to live on a beer. Now it doesn't.

…or your trail mix, or your half-and-half, or your leftover pizza. I once put a pastry in the fridge which I meant to bring to Jill later on. It was wrapped up so you couldn’t see what it was, but I wrote very clearly on it “Dead Dove. Do Not Eat.” Even that disappeared. It doesn’t matter where you work. If there’s a community fridge, at some point, someone is going to take your stuff. Fact.

You Can’t Fear Change

In my last post about life at a startup I said, “change happens at breakneck speed at a startup” and mentioned that if you were not equipped to do what REO Speedwagon preached, you might not be cut out for startup life. Change is a certain constant at Kapost. Since that post, even more members have joined our team (I think we’re pushing 50 or so employees now) and a few have left.

In mid-February our marketing team had our plan completely disrupted, scrambling us to put all hands on deck toward launching something that had previously been planned for later on. None of us were ready for that call to action, but all of us bonded together - as did all other departments of Kapost from product to engineering to customer success to sales - to successfully launch. We still met each of our original marketing goals on top of that as well.

we fear change

We did this because despite a potential wrench in our plans, none of us got bent out of shape or even flinched about the change. We said “ok” and rocked that initiative with the same gusto we would have given other prior plans. Change happened, but we adapted to it.

Even the stupid cubicle walls I notoriously complained about in my last post saw change. As I predicted, the growth of the company forced us to rearrange our office layout yet again, which meant tearing down part of the offending wall. It would have been silly for me to get caught up on something long term, because in startup-land any and everything is subject to change, and you have to move right along with it.

Cubicle destroyed

These are just some of the lessons I’ve learned 4 months in, and just as I felt a month in, I wouldn’t trade my current experiences for anything. The stressors I’m putting up with are already reaping vast rewards, and I’m having so much fun working on really cool stuff with really cool people.

I’ll continue to chronicle bits and pieces of my life and lessons at Kapost, intermittent with other ramblings and writing for the Content Marketeer and Kapost Academy. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.