Pull Up Your Sleeves and Work — Lessons Learned In A Startup

Originally published on LinkedIn, June 11, 2015. Republished here on December 1, 2015 to mark the two year anniversary of Seydesign changing ownership.

This month sees the end of the 18 month royalty agreement I had with Jonathan Head, the developer and entrepreneur that took my 8 year venture, Seydesign, off my hands in 2013. I didn’t get rich off the deal, I didn’t get the “exit” that young startups dream of. I did, however, get the education of a lifetime.

I will be the first to tell you that I am no expert in business or entrepreneurship. Most small business owners and entrepreneurs are rarely experts in anything, but the need to get things done drives us to become knowledgeable at a great many things. As the saying goes, Jack of all trades, master of none.

In a traditional work setting you might have the IT department, design, engineering, marketing, sales, accounting…

In a traditional work setting you might have the IT department, design, engineering, marketing, sales, accounting… In your own startup you might have yourself, or a co-founder if you’re lucky. You might be able to outsource some aspects of normal business operations, but chances are you’re going to take on a fair chunk of it on your own. You will become proficient at these tasks at the very least, or you will not succeed.

In my time at Seydesign I learned to be a server administrator, an accountant and an office manager. I learned enough about marketing and SEO to keep Seydesign in the top 3 Google search results. I learned to build automation systems and sales report generators. I learned how to funnel visitors to a quick sale or fast support. I learned about user experience and how to design interfaces that were intuitive and consistent. I learned to be flexible, I learned to iterate quickly and I learned to pivot.

Most of all I came away knowing what it takes to keep a small company afloat — hard work.

Any entrepreneur who’s built a viable business knows this. Anyone who’s made a career working for startups knows this. To anyone coming from corporate life, anyone who’s sat in their cubicle knowing what their task is and knowing it very well, anyone who’s ever said, “that’s not my job,” — the startup life can be a shock to the system.

Small startups don’t have complex management structures, siloed org charts and specialists. They have people in the pit, rolling up their sleeves and doing what it takes to get to the next milestone. They have generalists who are willing to do someone else’s work. Everyone becomes a researcher, a planner, an analyst. Everyone becomes proficient at climbing stairs — one step at a time.

When I started Seydesign in 2005, Y Combinator was just underway, Facebook was in it’s infancy and Twitter was a full 7 months from launching publicly. Startups were not dinner table conversation and engaging in one was certainly not considered a good career path. In fact, going out on my own was considered foolhardy and irresponsible.

Looking back on it now, it was the best education earned and the best career move I ever made.