Top 5 Things I Learned in the First 90 Days At A Startup

Today is the end of my first quarter at The Juice. I decided to reflect on the last 3 months and share what I’ve learned from 90 days at a tech startup. Hopefully I can share a few tidbits that help some of you in your journey as you join brand new startup teams!

Without further ado, the top 5 things I learned in my first 90 days at a tech startup.

1. When you’re working on ideas, projects, or processes that are new to you, build in more time for strategy shifts and plenty of back-up options.

What I’ve found is that when I get into new areas of marketing or other parts of the business that aren’t my wheelhouse, I am less aware of what’s likely to slow me down or stop me in my tracks.

For example, my background is in paid media. I knew about how long it would take me to get our campaigns up and running. I knew the rough timelines for getting creative from our team and getting the ads approved. The only major hiccup I ran into was that new companies with new domains can’t create their YouTube accounts for at least the first 60 days of owning that domain. Luckily we could easily pivot to other advertising platforms in the meantime.

But when it comes to growth tests related to partnerships, sales, or product, I haven’t had a good grasp on which variables could change, causing delays or pauses in those tests.

And when you’re working for a startup, LOTS of variables can change in one day. 

And for that reason, you should build in LOTS of backup options for achieving your goals.

2. Meetings can be really, really valuable. 

Now that I’ve been a part of a startup for 90 days, I have a refreshed outlook on meetings. I’ve never felt that meetings are pivotal, until this experience. 

Our meetings contain many more mission-critical decisions that any past meetings that I’ve ever experienced. We’re making choices that will alter the future of our company like:

  • What will we name our company?
  • What exactly are we going to sell to customers?
  • Who are we prioritizing in the marketplace?

We’ll see the effects of these choices for a very long time.

Because these meetings have been driving so much value, I find myself actually looking forward to them. After many of our meetings, I feel like that time spent together, talking and debating, was actually creating more value than some of the non-meeting time, where I’m doing tasks. Historically, that hasn’t been the case. 

In the past, I had many projects and I knew how they connected to goals for clients or internal teams, so getting those projects completed felt more valuable (and meetings mostly just slowed me down). 

In other words, the “how does this drive value” was determined long ago and the projects I had all focused on the implementation of that value creation

Now, the meetings are determining how this new team wants to create value for customers and platform members. And without those meetings, projects don’t matter because they’re not tied to a bigger goal or purpose, so they’re aimless.

This realization has made me wonder: Is there a correlation between the age of a business and how important or value-driving the meetings are?

Sure, there are important discussions and debates that 50-year-old companies need to have via meetings, too. But will the decisions in that meeting EVER be as long-term impactful as the decisions made in the first 90 days of launching a new startup team?

3. Your new, small team needs you to quickly learn MANY things. But that’s exhausting for your brain, so spread it out!

Everyone on our team has jumped into new projects, tasks, and/or skills that they’ve never tried before. While this is minimized at a startup studio, compared to a traditional startup, we’re all still branching out of our comfort zones. (The High Alpha startup studio has finance, HR, accounting, marketing, and other teams to help with the business operations so the team can focus more on building the software product, in the early stages. So that saves time because, for example, our CEO doesn’t have to spend hours on payroll.)

I’ve worked in several different areas of marketing and the business that I hadn’t focused before, such as:

  • Hubspot - I used other CRMs in the past
  • Video editing
  • Audio recording for ads
  • 1:1 sales outreach
  • Instagram stories (I know...I’m a millennial and I should’ve already been super savvy with these)
  • Product design feedback

What I’ve found is that all of the new stuff can be overwhelming because:

  1. It takes you longer to accomplish anything in a new area
  2. You don’t feel as confident in the execution, compared to an area where you’re an expert

Here’s my advice: Give yourself grace if you feel like you’re getting less done. But also be smart and recognize at the beginning of the week when you’re going to have to learn stuff, and schedule your week accordingly. And of course - ask for help! If you know someone on your team has more experience than you, speed up your work by learning from their wisdom.

4. Speak Up

If there’s only 5 of you, there could be many important decisions where you’re the only one with a different perspective. It’s mission critical that everyone uses their voice at this stage, because diversity of thought leads to better debate, and thus, well-vetted decisions.

There have been many decisions where only 1 of us brought up something that none of the rest of us thought of. Imagine if that person had not said anything! Per #1, a mission critical decision could’ve turned out completely differently.

Plus, I’ve also found that when I speak up, I’m often NOT the only person with that thought. For whatever reason, they just hadn’t said anything. So you need to speak up for that reason too!

But even if no one else is thinking about it, in the room, the odds are that you’re not the only person in the WORLD, who will interact with your brand and have the same thought

You gotta get those opinions out in the open and vet all of the ideas from the team to get to the best conclusion.

5. Write down your thoughts along the way

You’re going to want to look back at this experience and know where you’ve come from. 

So decide on a medium for documenting the journey. Write it down. Record videos. Tweet about it.  Whatever works for you!

I’ve been terrible at documenting the journey so far, which is partially why I’m starting here with this blog. I actually wrote this after doing a video blog about my first 90 days. I just recorded myself with QuickTime, talking through these 5 points to further develop these concepts. It’s easy, so I recommend that you try!

Reflecting on your experience, via writing or recording, also helps you to clarify concepts and learnings. It helps you eject ideas that are swirling around in your brain out into the ether so that you actually see that you’re having those ideas. There are several things in this post that I didn’t realize I was thinking about in the back of my head until I recorded the video blog and listened to it. 

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*Header Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash