Taking the Untrodden Path

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Being Employee #1 at a Startup

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This April, I completed 4 years at DeepRedInk Consulting. As the first employee of DRI, I have had some tremendous opportunities to learn, grow and contribute- personally, professionally (and even spiritually!).

Startup Employee

Here are some of the valuable lessons I learnt, being part of this roller-coaster ride:

1. Navigating through Uncertainty

We have always gone through days filled with overwhelming uncertainty about the next business enquiry, timely payment of salaries, etc. It does feel like driving at night, with minimum visibility.

The key is to be patient, persistent and optimistic.

2. Taking Responsibility

Having led various initiatives during my Undergrad, this came naturally to me. There was always this sense of psychological ownership towards DRI. It always felt like I’m contributing towards building DRI, from scratch. Over the years, I’ve done everything from execution to management, and now, I’m one of the 5 people steering this ship towards its next couple of milestones. The key here is be Intrapreneurial and strive towards leading from the front at all times.

3. Learning from Failure

Every individual (founder & non-founder) is bound to screw up somewhere, sometime with a key project. Instead of playing the blame game, we always preferred to look at the silver linings and took it in our stride. And, made sure we grew and got better, with every mistake we made.

The key here is to cultivate a growth mindset across the organization.

4. Developing a multifaceted skill-set (i.e, become a Generalist)

The flexibility that comes with working at a startup is unparalleled. Despite a background in Software Engineering, I chose to specialize in the poised-for-growth Social Media domain. After spending more than 2 years in this domain, I shifted to Brand Strategy, Account Management and finally to Program Management where I’m currently working.

In a startup environment, we are always short of hands and we try to cover up all the loopholes by playing multiple roles across different functions of the business. This gives a change to early stage employees to jump in and take more responsibility across core and support functions like Finance, Administration, (and HR). Being the first employee, I got exposed to most of these business functions that helped me develop a multifaceted skill-set, having done Business Development, Strategy Consulting, Marketing, Hiring, etc.

The key here, is to be open to new opportunities coming your way. And, keep building your repertoire.

5. Influencing effective Decision Making

Prompt decision making has been quite a challenge for DRI’s Founders. DRI, has always adopted the Decision Making through Consensus approach. And, for anything to reach consensus, takes time and energy. Over the years, we have followed various models/frameworks to arrive at decisions in a quick time. Some worked, while some didn’t. I’m grateful to have been part of most these experiments. And, glad to have rolled out some game-changing initiatives to propel the organization towards sustainable growth.

The key here, is to develop a deeper understanding of the situation at hand and view it from different perspectives to get a grip of it.

6. Evolving through Culture shifts

As the first employee, I have had the opportunity to work with almost all the people who were on DRI’s rolls through its short lifetime. There have been significant shifts in Culture of the organization from time to time, and I have been an integral part of this evolution. As one of the early employees, it helps to be the interface (only if required!) between the founders and the new employees. Also, in some cases, an early employee might find it comparatively easier to sell the vision/purpose of the startup to the newbies, than the founders.

The key here is to be conscious of your personal growth, to strive to build lasting relationships, to have empathy for your team members and to ultimately get work done (with so many dynamics at play all time), come what may!

7. Creating Win-Win-Win solutions

As a Senior Leader in the system, it has always been my endeavour to create Win-Win-Win solutions for the Client, for DRI and for my employees, respectively.

The key here is to be present and be conscious of the different dynamics at play between the Client organization, your organization and your employees. All this, while making sure that the project strategy is on track.

All in all, I can say that it is nothing short of an adventure! Looking back, I’m glad I made the decision to be the first employee of DeepRedInk. And, very grateful to the founders for considering me for this coveted position.


P.S: A word of caution for those looking to join a Startup, as its first employee/ early stage employee: If you are not confident about the Founder’s vision (or intention), don’t jump into it. You have to be on board from Day 1. Else, it wouldn’t be an ideal scenario for anyone. Once you’ve signed up, look forward to an exponential learning curve, ample opportunities to grow and great exposure.

About Author

Nabeel K. Adeni

Big on ideas. Keen on Learning. High on Empathy

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