Let me start by pointing out that I loved my time at Chocolate Cloud, the startup in which I was working. That being said, if you’ve ever thought about working at a startup there are some things that you might want to think about. This is all based on my own personal experiences and doesn’t necessarily apply to every startup.
When working at a startup you’re more often than not a small team. This makes it easy for everyone to work towards a common goal, which in our case was the product. You also start to feel some ownership towards the product, because you’ve helped to work on it prior to the launch as well as after.
Another thing that’s not uncommon when you’re working at a startup, is that you get to wear many hats. I was the only designer in the team and did everything from graphic to web design, project management, social media content, video editing, and animated explainer videos. Being a recent graduate I thought this was awesome, I got to get my hands on many different tasks and I really learned a lot from the experience. I also learned a lot of new skills and lessons by cooperating with the marketing team, and these were definitely things I could use going forward.
Finally one of the greatest things about working at Chocolate Cloud was the strong bond we had as colleagues. The result of this was a great work environment, with high spirits most of the time. We were also a remote team with base in Aalborg, Denmark. This meant that whenever the remote team came to visit the Aalborg office, we would either go out for dinner or do some fun teambuilding. This all helped us become very close as a team, even with the colleagues we didn’t see as often.
When it comes to bad experiences, there are a few. Due to the small company culture, you can’t expect something like project management to be a thing. This can be frustrating at times, especially when you’re involved in a lot of the projects going on in the company. It wasn’t uncommon that there would be a lot of requests that were needed NOW, which made it hard to prioritize and get around to all of it, within the short deadline that was by the end of the day. I tried my best to prioritize the work as I got it, but the tasks labeled with “I need this by (insert time or date)”, always became a priority over the “I need this (no specification as to when)” tasks, because the urgency of those tasks were unknown.
As mentioned we were a remote team, and when it comes to discussing solutions this can be hard. We primarily used Slack for communication, and while this worked well most of the time, it became clear after a while that some things were better to discuss during a video call. Here the screen could be shared so all participants could see what was going on, and it made it easier to show and explain while you were discussing.
Being the only designer on the team also had its downsides. At times I would miss having another designer to discuss ideas and designs with. You know that feeling of ‘I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is missing or off’, whenever that feeling would come up I would have loved to have someone where I could say, hey can you take a look at this real quick? Instead, I would often pause what I was working on and go work on another task for a while, and then come back to the problematic task later with some fresh eyes, usually, it would do the trick.
The Ugly part of working at a startup is, that just like any other business, money is required for it to be running. The catch here is, that in the beginning, you might be depending on funding from different investors and the likes, but at some point, that money runs out. If you haven’t established yourself on the market when that time comes, it will get ugly.
When that time came it meant that most of the team were laid off, including me. This was hard on everyone giving how close we were as a team, but also because we knew that what we had worked on was most likely not going to survive as a product.
Working at a startup is an adventure, there will be ups and downs and sometimes it can be a lot. However, I am very happy that the first place I got to work after graduation was a startup. The lessons I learned here, prepared me for a lot going forward. I got to hone my skills in a lot of different areas, and it helped me understand in which I thrive, and what areas I enjoy working with the most.