Why I joined a startup instead of Google
Although this doesn’t mean I’m not going back to large tech companies
After nearly 2 years of working with Google, between a summer internship, a 1 year ambassadorship program in multiple offices, an 8-month internship in the EMEA HQ and a special project in the US, with the Global HQ in Mountain View, CA, I decided not to join Google as an FTE (full-time employee). At least for now. Many friends questioned, even my family probably doubted, but there was reasoning behind my choice. And a bit of luck. And risk, but that’s what everything is about if you ever wanna fly solo.
I want to tell you about the hypothesis I validated with my decision. Most of these assumptions existed in the back of my mind, but only now I am confident enough to fully back them. Maybe the next post will be about those assumptions that I could not validate (or that I completely trashed).
Choosing a startup over Google
"It’s all about accelerating your learnings
I’m going to be honest: it wasn’t an easy decision. Multiple factors were driving me to join Google, after all it provided a pretty compelling view of my future life. But a single combination of “somethings” tipped the balance: expected learnings.
Everyone that speaks about working at startups always brings up thelearn fast, learn a lot-point-of-view, but for me it was simply too vague. It took me a year at Uniplaces to be able to make a granular analysis of (some of) the real learnings at a startup.
Learning driven by future goals
Find your “down the line”
Ironically my first point is about future goals. Any choice you take professionally will directly impact your future. I defined as my future goal creating my own company in the tech area. I started by outlining what I needed to know in order to feel “comfortable”: (1) learn technology - be hands-on with programming, understand how engineering thinks and solves problems, learn how to speak to developers and how to work with them; (2) Understand operations - learn how to assess operational changes, how to drive the solution of a problem through optimisations and how to create operating “hacks” to achieve a result, all in technologically-backed environments; (3) People management - have real experience with managing expectations, environment changes, peak moments and depressive moods, and specially, sourcing talent.
Although only a sample of the learnings in this area, this exposure already provided the foundations for a start.
Learning driven by people
Surround yourself with outstanding, maniacally goal-driven people
This combination of learnings had the steepest learning curve, given the dynamics of people. Finding outstanding founders and leaders was key on the impact of my decision.
It’s important to find founders who provide a wide range of learnings at several levels: (1) leaders who create a vision and pass it on, who motivate a team based on that vision and most of all, who are able to tailor words and objectives to achieve results without sacrificing the culture; (2) experts that grant you “exclusive” access and hands-on experience on developing key skills in important fields; (3) amazing technical people with different rationals, multiple ways of assessing and tackling a problem, and specially, who motivate you to overcome the obstacles of learning something complex.
Learning driven by necessity
Make the unknown your new home
I am confident to say these were, at the same time, the funniest as well as the most frustrating learning periods. As anyone might guess, in a startup there’s simply a lot undone with no one skilled enough or assigned to do it. When the startup needs, when you face the necessity of doing it, it will accelerate the capacity to learn and absorb new terms, new markets and new skills at a wild speed.
One thing I noticed is that I started getting more comfortable when being challenged into learning and deploying something that no one else was either working or even had knowledge to do it. Once I mechanised parts of my daily job I knew I had to start searching for new things to do. I believe this mindset is critical when hitting roadblocks, and, not only a startup fosters this line of thought, but successful founders will inadvertedly pass through this.
It’s important to keep in mind the technical debt here. Although spending part of your time learning and executing new stuff, sometimes paying off (aka, hiring) experienced executors can be a more efficient use of your time and company money. It’s a tricky balance, specially as a company scales and founders have to take a back seat in the firefighting department.
Learning driven by flexibility
Jump around, stretch your boundaries, upgrade yourself
This point might seem similar to the last one but the key diference is in the company’s acceptance of you venturing into unknown fields, rather than only requiring to.
Although the necessity of learning new skills fast is stimulating, the flexibility that a startup offers to work with multiple teams provides a singular view of everyone involved in the company. It gives everyone the chance to “upgrade”, to try new areas with different types of people and, inn the end, it will only complete your way of working in your own field.
This was possibly the first time I saw the “machine” moving, where each part contributed to an output, designers, engineers, operations, everyone transforming their raw materials into value. Flexibility combined with necessity can probably be the most empowering environment any entrepreneur could wish for.
Learning driven by adaptation
Embrace a changing environment
The cliché learning of this collection: undoubtedly startups move fast and change faster. Adaptation on the go is how I can best describe how to live with a roadmap.
Dealing with friends leaving, people moving from teams, de-motivation or exhilarating feelings, pressure of the bank account running dry or too much money (ok this doesn’t happen): these moments are transparent in a startup. From founders to the colleague next to you, everyone shares these “problems”, and everyone becomes as much responsible for part of them as for their solution.
Putting in perspective learnings at Google
Google offered an incredible learning environment; it fostered collaboration, hard thinking, big problem solving, up-to-date challenges that clients and Google itself needed to address, and this is far from little. But I am confident that the learnings I was looking for, those which will shape how good I’ll be as an entrepreneur and doer, those I could only get from being at a startup. It might not be the only startup I’m in, nor the last before I create my own, but I think it’s a pretty good start.