Startup Tips

My first job was at a very small startup in Sunnyvale. I learned a ton, and thought I’d share everything I learned during that short, but powerful time of my life.

Lisa Olson
4 min readMar 29, 2021

I remember writing this paragraph after a few weeks at the company :

I don’t know if it’s gotten easier/harder, it just is. Oh, I’m literally the only Web Developer on the team? Okay. Oh, two hour commute today? Okay. Oh, boss isn’t here and I’m working by myself all day and I have no idea what I should be doing? Okay. Oh, three new deadlines just found out today for three fortune 500 companies and we don’t even know what the product is that we’re building? Okay. Oh, we already got a 6 figure deal with a company and we don’t know what they’re expecting to see from us? Okay.

A few days ago I got the numbers for multiple complex graphs I needed to make an hour before our presentation. One comma literally broke every graph across the entire website.. Just another day in the life of a dev.

I can give you some tips if you also are in the infamous ‘startup environment’.

1. Get ready to go back to the drawing board. Multiple times.

Iget it, you’ve had 3 meetings this week alone about what it is exactly we’re trying to build. None of us still know. You’ve drawn up five mockups this week and started over three times and every idea gets shut down. I know. They asked you to take initiative and then promptly rewrite everything you spent all day on. It’s okay. Accept it as your chance to be part of something growing and expanding and you get to grow and expand with it. One of your ideas will eventually end up sticking. Fun story about this one, the one page I did completely take control over and totally went on a limb with design and content ended up being their favorite! Keep taking initiative. They appreciate it, they really do. Even if they don’t voice it or you get shut down a lot.

2. After a couple days, asking yet another question really isn’t going to help you.

Everyone always says, ‘Ask a ton of questions!’ I can tell you right now, no matter how many questions you ask, it’s probably still not going to make much sense. This isn’t because of your stupidity or lack of understanding, it’s because they don’t know either. If you don’t know and you ask and it seems unclear, it’s because it really is that unclear. Is that terrifying and concerning? Yes, yes it is. Just roll with it.

3. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it.

I kept waiting for it to feel like an “internship” or even the slightest resemblance to training or even, at minimum, possibly things I needed to get done? Ha ha. No, not that lucky. If you’re asked to do something specific, be excited. You’re on a small team of extremely busy people with an extremely low budget. They hired you because frankly, they don’t have time to train you or money to hire someone better. They hired you because they really believed you could do it. They saw drive, initiative, and a willingness to start over multiple times and/or ask for help when you need it. And honestly? They don’t necessarily care what you’re working on as long as you’re working on something. My coworker once said to me when I asked what I should be working on, ‘Whatever makes the company better.’ That is basically it. If it’s making the company better, go for it. And when given the opportunity to work on something specific, do it the best you know how and then ask for feedback consistently to change it. This leads to number four.

4. Everything you build can and will be changed. Guaranteed.

Everything is in process of being built and reconstructed. It will be changed. Be ready and open for constant feedback. Just spent 8 hours on a page? Yeah, no. It’s getting replaced. They aren’t mad at you. They aren’t trying to make you small. They might have even explicitly told you to build it the way you built it and it’s nothing against you or your work. It’s just not quite right. And think of it as ‘together, we’re building this thing’. And together, we’re trying to figure out the best possible product we can build. When they shut you down, it’s as much on them as you.

5. Keep your head up and don’t panic.

Startups are tough. I spend a lot of my day trying to breathe properly when I find out completely unrealistic deadlines are coming up. It’s okay. You can do this. Roll with the crazy; see yourself as a collaborator, not an employee, and make it your own. Think about what you would like to see happen if it was your business and go for that. Ultimately, it’s a chance to be part of something. Not a small, throwaway piece like you would be at a huge company, but a truly vital part of the team. And good or bad, it’s an unforgettable experience.



Lisa Olson

Front End Developer. Passionate about everything I do. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.