How can I determine if I have what it takes to work at a startup? What one quality do I need to have?
-- Rachel, Seattle, WA
Tolerance of Ambiguity
When you're involved in starting a company, things change rapidly. What you're doing one day could be completely different the next. This is the biggest difference between startup and corporate culture. Expect to do things outside of your job description and move quickly.
Would You Work at the Circus?
Like a traveling circus, where everyone has a specialty, but everyone is willing to do what needs to be done to get the show unloaded, running smoothly, and then packed up again at the end of the day, being involved in a startup requires being equally willing to manage, code, consult or empty the trash cans. Be willing, and you'll be golden.
Comfort with chaos.
Working at a startup can be frustrating because you have an undeveloped culture, idea-phase business model, murky horizon, and constant chaos inside and outside the office. It can be as exciting as it is stressful and (at times) boring. I'd strongly suggest volunteering your time before employing yourself at a startup, via internship or side gigs or otherwise - get a feel for the culture and team.
Stickability: Stick to It and Deliver
Stickability is an essential quality necessary to survive and thrive at a startup. Persevere and develop staying power with the company's vision and mission in clear sight. In a fast-paced and unpredictable startup environment you'll need the fortitude to ride the highs and the lows. Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it get's there.
The drive of an 18 wheeler
One intrinsic characteristic separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest: drive. You must be exquisitely driven to accomplish your dreams in order to find success as an entrepreneur. There are so many moments when it will be tempting to quit and risky to stay on track. But achieving success means keeping the course, and drive is what will guarantee that.
You Gotta Have Faith
George Michael must have been singing about startups when he recorded "Faith" back in 1987. Entrepreneurs know that there are going to be a lot more bad days than good in the early stages of a startup. It's the period of time when you need to fail early, often and fast. As long as you keep your eyes on the prize, adapt and change, you'll get there, just keep the faith.
You need to have passion. There is no specific DNA that makes up a specific role in a startup or to be an entrepreneur. If you're passionate about what you're doing there shouldn't be anything that can get in your way.
Teamwork is a Must
Every successful entrepreneur requires the ability to be a team player. You cannot do everything on your own so make sure you are willing to share tasks, or take on someone else's project. It will help you get through the long hours, and when you hit a goal, you do it as a team.
The above answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Founded by Scott Gerber, the YEC is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.
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