What I've Learned After One Year at a Startup

NOTE: The views of this post are my own and are not meant to reflect those of my employer. I made it folks.

One year ago, I joined a Boulder, Colorado marketing technology company called Kapost. At the time, it seemed like a potentially risky move. I was recently engaged, leaving a company at which I felt secure, working with great people and for a great person. A year later, it's the best decision I've ever made.

celebrateme
celebrateme

Throughout this year I've been documenting my evolution as a new employee, sharing what I had learned after one month and four months, and my awe of the people I've worked with and for. This is another in that series, documenting lessons from this past year at a Kapost.

You Can't Fear Change

For those following along at home, this is a recurring lesson. In fact, it's probably the number one theme. In the past year we've altered the way we do business (3-4 times by my count), adjusting appropriately as we learn what works/doesn't. We've grown from a company in the teens (I was employee 19 a year ago) to somewhere around 60 employees. I think. I honestly can't keep up. In my first post on this topic I bemoaned the construction of a cubicle wall that divided the room, however noting:

"...aside from whining about it in this post, I’m not throwing much of a fit, because I know this too will change.

If we continue to grow as rapidly as we have been – and as rapidly as the company is planning to – we literally will not be able to fit everyone in the office space we’re in now. There will be another move, and maybe we’ll return to an open, lively, & energetic workspace. The point is, change happens at breakneck speed at a startup and if venting in a blog post like I just did isn’t enough to help you keep moving, you’ll struggle to catch up."

It did change. We kept growing. We kept playing with the layout of our space. Now we're moving to a bigger space in a month or so and an even bigger space a few months after that. This constant adjusting of ideas - and in our case physical space - can't rattle you if you want to last in a startup.

On a smaller scale, our marketing team has been under constant change this year. We're now at the largest we've ever been staff-wise, but we've had to get to that point by overcoming the departure of 6 marketers in the process. Sometimes we filled positions, sometimes we created new ones. If there's one thing our team knows, it's that the way things work now, sure as hell won't be the way they always work.

Fortunately, we're the kind of team that just keeps rolling.

COATEFUCKYEAH
COATEFUCKYEAH

You Can't Stop the "Up"

So, remember that part above where I said the marketing team lost some folks this year? Well, among them were our web designer, front end developer, marketing automation & Salesforce admin, and our director of marketing. Ridiculously talented people in critical positions. I can't stress that enough. In fact, the latter two were the ones who built Kapost's original marketing structure from the ground up. You don't just replace that overnight.

But despite these key setbacks, our marketing goals remained in place. We still had to produce and still had to produce more each month. So we did (for the most part). We found a way to keep momentum, because, well, we had to. In order for this company to grow, we as a company need to continue to produce, to innovate to stretch ourselves to be the best version of Kapost we can be.

forthewin
forthewin

I'm proud to work at a company where that is not only a mandate but a common understanding and something we all push for. We all know, that as tough as things get, we'll keep going and keep this company booming. So far so good, and we're not stopping any time soon.

Don't Hire Jerks

Now you might be thinking "no shit, Coate", but the reason Kapost has been able to handle change, turnover, high demands from prospects, customers, board members, investors and so on is deeply rooted in an old SlideShare presentation by CEO Toby Murdock. On slide 5 Toby lists Kapost's cultural values.

[slideshare id=24580088&doc=kapost-20culture-207-130724094223-phpapp02]

Numbers 3-6 make up the part I have most commonly cited when people ask what I enjoy most about Kapost. It started with good people, it's grown with good people, and it will continue to grow with good people. As we've grown I've never questioned a hire. With very few exceptions, the people who have walked in the door have belonged, have been all-stars at what they do, and fit in as those they've always been a part of this.

I've also watched as wave after wave of new hires has been welcomed by those before them. There is no sense of "us vs. them", "originals vs. newbies". There's no overt favoritism solely toward longevity. Appreciation, sure, but I mean to say a person is able to walk in to Kapost and do a great job from day one, because they already have the trust of existing teammates.

The great part too, is that the awesome people that have left this company this year have been awesome to the company on the way out. Our marketing team survived a potentially treacherous transition period because none of those key departures left on a bitter note (awesome people are in high demand and they were demanded elsewhere is all), and were willing to do everything they could to make sure we could keep going in the interim, often going above and beyond what's typically expected.

So yeah. Don't hire jerks.

Style Doesn't Matter...

Referencing that SlideShare deck again, #7 reads "We evaluate by results." One of the joys of working for a startup is how freeform a lot of work tends to be. Goals are in place, along with general process guidelines (sometimes), and then it's "okay guys, go get 'em."

This is where innovation comes from - finding different ways to get somewhere. Experimentation has its place, so does unconventional thinking. There's no format, really. It's purely about getting things done, however that looks.

While I referred above to a unity among Kaposters, you wouldn't notice it directly by looking around the office. I see a diversity of workspace and clothing choices, of work styles and work schedules. We aren't a group of look-a-like do-a-likes but we're getting it done. There's something to be said for that.

...Though Apparently Neither Does Cleanliness

Kaposters. Dirty dishes in the bucket. Seriously.

Dirty dishes
Dirty dishes

Also, what's going on here?

IMG_0913
IMG_0913

Or here?

IMG_0914
IMG_0914

Clean up after yourselves, adult humans.

READ MORE:

What I Learned After One Month at a Startup

What I Learned After Four Months at a Startup

Kapost is a rapidly growing venture-backed company with customers like IBM, Dell, & Lenovo.

So that's year one for me. Hope you enjoyed reading my experiences this crazy year as much as I enjoyed having them.