6 lessons I learned while working at a hyper growth tech startup
Working at a hyper-growth startup was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was also one of the craziest experiences of my life.
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Tech is such an interesting and semi-exclusive industry to work in. So I thought I’d give my perspective on some of the most valuable lessons I learned during my first few years working at a hyper-growth tech startup.
The job you get hired for isn’t necessarily the job you’ll be doing in 6 months.
My first job title was “SEO specialist”. I came in with a background in SEO and website management, I had a couple of years of good experience and a year of grad school logged so I was feeling pretty good.
I learned quickly my past roles and school experience were not going to help me thrive in this new role, not that those experiences weren’t useful, just that they were very different.
I was eager to jump in and get started and quickly found some problems to solve.
The largest problem that needed solving was that the only resource dedicated to managing the website was a part-time web dev agency.
We also had 3 or 4 separate sub-domains that the marketing team was overseeing, but we didn’t have dedicated resources for managing or improving the websites.
I was initially a little surprised that a company this big, making so much money could have such a duct tape and glue website approach.
I’ve since learned that almost every startup in existence has a very similar situation, unless the website is part of their core product.
Within 6 months I had rebuilt the website internally with help from engineers and designers and we launched that brand new website almost exactly 6 months after my hire date. So I had effectively become a full time web developer all while also trying to grow the SEO program.
6 months after that I started to transition into my growth product manager role.
All this to say, the job you get hired for at a hyper-growth startup, is not the job you’ll likely end up doing, especially if you’re looking for problems to solve and ways to provide value to the business.
The greatest value I ever brought was solving and preventing problems.
For the first few months, I wasn’t sure where exactly I should focus my energy to be as productive as possible, there were so many things that needed to get done, but so little time to get them done.
All of these tasks were relatively high ROI items, but I only had so many hours a day.
I often asked my boss, where should I be focusing my energy, and often his response was “wherever you can get the highest ROI”.
It took me a lot longer than I would have liked to really understand what my boss meant, but eventually everything just kind of clicked.
I went from asking everyone else what should I be doing, to finding problems and proposing solutions.
As I built muscle around identifying problems and building solutions, I gained the trust of my team and the company.
Trust is the most valuable currency.
Trust has always been a little bit of a vague idea to me, until starting work with my startup team.
I remember my first few performance reviews, all of my team had really positive things to say about how hard I work and how much I got done, but a common thread across all the reviews was something along the lines of “give more to your team” “trust your team more” “let your team help you”.
At the time I understood conceptually what they were saying, but I didn’t have a practical application or example.
How could I show my team I trust them more? How can I give more work to them? That seems weird.
Then I met a coworker who exemplified this perfectly.
He was a top performer and well-known around the company for getting things done. As I started to work with him more I was able to take these conceptual ideas about trust and assign them to an example I could actually study.
He spent time with everyone he worked with, and I don’t mean water cooler chats and hanging out, but he got to know people and showed that he cared. When you were working on a project, he offered to help in a few specific ways and actually did what he said he was going to.
It was then that trust started to make sense to me.
Trust is the confidence in someone else that they will do what they say they’ll do and that they’ll have your back.
Trust is built by spending time with people, listening to them and their needs, and helping people wherever you can. This applies at work and at home.
In my case at work, trusting my team all of the sudden became very tangible. Does my designer actually believe that I have his back? Does he know that I’m doing everything I can to help him do his job?
Do I know what obstacles my digital marketing manager is trying to solve right now? What stops him from being successful? What can I do to make sure that he or anyone on my team is successful?
By identifying the needs of my teammates and working to help them solve their problems, I got way more done than by just putting my head down and focusing on my work. This is very much a 1+1=3 situation.
Building trust is the most efficient way to get incredible work done.
Impact + Visibility = Success
This one took me a lot longer to learn than I would like.
I’ve always been a hard and efficient worker, and I used to like to say that my work speaks for itself, and that’s still true, but this idea that impact + visibility = success has changed the way I talk about my work.
In a broad example, if someone found the cure to cancer, we would say that work is some of the most impactful work that has ever been done on the Earth today. But what if no one knew that cancer had been cured? It wouldn’t matter how incredible the impact of that discovery was, because no one knew about it. Therefore, no one would be healed from cancer, right?
A crucial component of success is making sure that the impact you are having is visible.
Now when I first heard this I shied away a little, I’ve always been told that humility is the virtue, yada yada.
I’m not saying go out and brag about how incredible you are and how smart you are for curing cancer, but I am saying that you need to make sure that people know the kind of work you’re doing and how impactful it can really be.
There are several ways to showcase your impact, but the first is just to tell your boss.
Does your boss know what you’re working on? Do they have enough context to understand that what you’re doing is a big deal? Does your team know what you’re doing?
In some ways this comes back to trust, are you building trust with your team by showing the good work you’re doing and showcasing and highlighting the good work done by your team?
So I’ll reiterate, if you want to be successful in anything, do a good job and make sure that people know you’re doing a good job. There might be a whole other post or two on these ideas, so keep an eye out for those.
It’s hard to argue with a good idea, especially a good idea backed up by data.
You and your coworkers are not always going to agree, and that’s the best news you’ve heard all day.
If you have 10 people all with the same idea, you aren’t really improving or getting better.
Not to get on a soapbox here, but this is one of the values of diversity in life, people think differently when they come from different scenarios. Even in the workplace, a salesman is going to think differently than an engineer.
True success comes from consolidating ideas and reaching the best conclusion.
So how do you do that? Two steps:
Come up with a good idea
Back up this good idea with data
Never have I been in a meeting or a conversation where someone with a good idea and data got shut down.
If you have a good idea and you think it really is a good idea, prove it. Do the homework, and show others with data that this idea is good and why it’s good.
This works with your teammates and your CEO. They both might have different opinions, but being open to ideas and presenting a compelling case with data is really difficult to argue with.
Shoutout to Josh who taught me this. And I should be clear, I’ve always understood that design is important, we want things to look nice, I get it.
I’m very much a pragmatist when it comes to design, I just want things to work and I don’t really care how it looks.
Working with incredible designers helped me understand why that train of thought is wrong.
Good designers have helped me to understand that not only is there a psychological component to design (and there is, you can read all about it) but design, and especially good design, evokes emotion and inspires action.
You can see this from a revolutionary standpoint, but I see it from more of a conversion view.
Good design builds trust and helps your users feel good about giving you personal information or using a product.
I really wish I could speak more to this, but I think I’ll just have to interview some designers and get their thoughts on why design is so important to product and marketing.
I learned many more lessons than I can possibly write here, but I hope to continue sharing things that I’ve learned in this newsletter, so subscribe to get more tips from me and from people much smarter than I am.