startups and rates of learning

Published on May 16, 2020

Working at a startup is an excellent way to improve your rate of learning.

Startups are known to provide good compensation packages to their employees. Employees get access to equity in exchange for taking a risk at a startup, and if they stay with the company, their equity will vest and perhaps turn into something valuable. Salaries at established startups are often good, too.

I believe that the best compensation that startups can provide is not financial, however, rather educational. Startups are a great place to learn.

I have been working at a startup for almost a year now, and I would say that it has been the most educational time of my life. I cannot begin to write about every insight I have learned, because there has been so much for me to navigate.

I have learned how to work on a team. I have learned how to work effectively remotely. I have learned about growth and loops. I am learning about how to devise a more effective long-term content strategy.

If I had not joined a startup, I am unsure if I would have been able to learn as much.

More established companies, while offering you experience, work at a slower pace than startups. Companies like Google don’t need to go quickly because they are entrenched: big companies have a strong hold on their markets, and so they don’t need to move as quickly.

If Google launches a new product and fails, it may harm the company a little bit, but Google will still be around tomorrow. But if a startup launches a new product and it fails, then the company may not be around for much longer.

This is why startups are such great places to learn. When you work at a startup, everything you do will have a direct impact on the company. So, you are expected to do your best work every single day -- if you don’t, you’ll be letting the entire company down.

I know many young people aspire to work at companies like Google. It was once my dream to work for one of the big tech companies like Facebook or Twitter. If I had pursued a career at one of those companies, though, my learning would have occurred at a slower rate.

Everyday I am learning something new at my job. This is important to me because I am young, and in order to stay ahead of the game, I need to be constantly learning. Knowledge acquisition fuels my growth, and allows me to reach new heights every day.

It can be tempting to seek comfort in “traditional companies,” because their rate of learning is slower. You don’t need to do as much work, and you don’t need to do it as quickly. But, ask yourself: do you really want your rate of learning to be slower?

The knowledge that you build working at a startup will compound over time. As you learn more about your field of interest -- whether you are a product manager, engineer, or whatever -- that knowledge will become more valuable. The insights you learned yesterday will help you get better at your job today.

Another reason why startups are such great learning environments is that there is a tight feedback loop associated with all startup work. I already have a good idea of how my content from Q1 has helped my employer. We don’t have all the data yet -- content is a long-term game -- but the early signs are promising.

When you are working for a big company, though, this feedback loop is not usually as tight. A project can be in development for months before the company realizes that it may not be a good investment of their time. Or, a project may even be launched, only to realize that it doesn’t fit a customer need. If this happens in a startup, the company dies.

Early on in your career, if you want to accelerate your pace of learning, joining a startup is an excellent idea. You’ll learn a lot on the job, and you will be encouraged to be more resourceful than you ever have been before. While you may not be given too much responsibility in your first job, you’ll still be able to see the inner workings of the company for which you work. You can’t put a price on that experience.

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