Creative people looking at project plans laying on floor

Maximize the Startup Experience

By Larry Alton

If you have aspirations of one day launching your own startup and building it into a successful company, join the club. And while there’s something to be said for diving in head first, there’s also a lot of value to be gleaned from taking it slowly. One piece of constructive advice is to work in someone else’s startup before launching your own.

In order to get the most out of the startup experience, here are a few tips we believe you’ll find helpful:

1. Find the Right Position

The first step is to find the right startup. The tricky thing is that the “startup” label is thrown around quite liberally in many circles. To some, the definition of a startup is a teenager working in his garage designing prototypes for widgets. To others, a startup is a business that’s just getting off the ground but has an office space and funding from serious investors. And then there are those who are unwilling to shed the label even after being in business for 10 years.

Spend time doing your research and carefully vetting different opportunities. In many large cities – such as Boston – there are online communities that are devoted to startup job opportunities. These tend to be more reliable than Craigslist advertisements and word of mouth.

2. Hone Your Skills

Treat your time at a startup like a learning opportunity – because it is! You aren’t focused on making a ton of money or getting promotions. What you are focused on is honing specific qualities that will allow you to be more successful in the future.

“Working at a startup probably means you’re part of a small team, most likely in the single digits,” entrepreneur Kerrin Sheldon explains. “Because of the nature of having such a small team, there is probably nobody else in the company who has the same skillset as you, approaches problems in the same way you do, or even thinks the same way you do.

This means you’ll have more of an opportunity to unleash your skills and hone them. Use this to your advantage.

3. Build Connections with Co-Workers

Another advantage of working with a small team of people is that you get to know everyone very well. Look at this as a networking opportunity. If you’re used to corporate jobs, you’ll find that you’re now surrounded by people who are much different than your previous co-workers. This is a good thing and can lead to lots of personal growth

Down the road, if you decide to launch your own startup, having these connections in your back pocket can be hugely advantageous. Think about this – and take the relational aspect of your job just as seriously as the business aspect.

4. Overcome Your Fear of Change

The final tip is rather simple: You need to overcome your fear of change. Most of us are creatures of habit and thrive on consistency. In a startup environment, consistency is rare. You’ll be doing new things every day and have to be able to quickly adapt. If you successfully overcome your fear of change, you’ll be much better positioned for success in the future.

5. Try Before Launching

There’s a reason you try multiple samples at an ice cream shop before choosing a flavor to purchase. Nobody wants to start something, only to find out that they don’t really like it. Well, the same principle rings true in the startup world. Why would you launch your own startup without first discovering whether or not you even like the culture?

Spend a few months working in a startup and try to maximize the experience. You’ll either come out energized and equipped or determined that you made a mistake. Either is fine – but it’s important that you find the answer before investing everything you have.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.