We recently announced a series of open job positions at Hotels.ng, and the responses have been overwhelming! Along with the entries, we have received a number of questions, the most prominent of which has been: ‘what’s it like working at Hotels.ng?’
And, by extension, what is it like working in a Nigerian tech startup?
Working in a startup is an entirely unique experience, the kind that prompts you to say ‘you have to experience it to get it!’ and I genuinely believe that everyone deserves to experience the startup work environment at least once in their lives.
At an event a few weeks ago, I found myself with a group of people who found the problem-resolution time of the legal TV show SUITS a bit unrealistic.
‘A problem arises in the first five minutes,’ someone said, ’and it is resolved within 40 minutes of screen time. That’s ridiculous!’
I realized instantly that while the premise of SUITS might be a bit unrealistic, the cinematic setup was a vivid description of what it means to work in a fast-paced environment – like a startup environment! And what’s more – we have to solve problems without commercial breaks. Welcome to the real world, people!
In the course of hiring over the past two years, I have quickly come to understand that people who are ‘groomed’ for a traditional work environment sometimes apply to a startup and often feel out of place starting from the first email application. Quite unlike a conventional workplace, startups have an almost maverick-like system of hiring and working that may leave the unprepared a little stunned.
For starters, when startups describe their office culture as a ‘fast-paced’ one, they usually mean it. Where more traditional companies often convene around every quarter or so to review the performance of the previous quarter, tech startups – like Hotels.ng – are famous for holding weekly review meetings, and sometimes mid-week meetings to appraise the progress of a project. If you are working in the dev team, regular standups soon become a part of your daily hustle.
This means, of course, that if you want to work in a ‘lean’ setup, you must be flexible and result-oriented as well. Expect to have projects assigned to you with a short turnaround time, and expect to deliver on these projects before your deadline. Since this environment encourages self-sufficiency, self-management and a flat management hierarchy, you are expected to be able to start – and finish – projects with only the required minimum supervision. If you need a lot of hand-holding, you might be a tad frustrated with the way of things, but that’s just how it is.
Essentially, when a startup describes itself as ‘fast-paced’, you should expect to be stretched within – and sometimes beyond – your abilities.
Startups describe themselves as ‘lean’, a hallmark of pride, one that requires you as a team player to bring forth your A-game. Here, words like ‘creativity’, ‘resourcefulness’, ‘strategic thinking’, ‘adaptability’ are no longer nice words you add to fill up your CV.
Everyone in the team counts. Your contribution to the success of the business is measured independent of your team lead, and his/hers is measured independent of the other team leads. You are responsible for the success – or otherwise – of what you do, and cannot hide under some other person (‘but my team lead said…’) to explain away underperformance linked to you.
Do you like to see a definite line linking the work you do to the success of the business? Do you like to feel like the thing you do is making a tangible difference in the company’s productivity? Then join a startup.
There are no ‘functional ghostworkers’ here. I coined the phrase to describe the people who appear to be working in an establishment, but who, once their output is reviewed, are found to be contributing little – or nothing – to the overall company-wide goal. If you ever catch yourself feeling like you’re riding the wave, unobtrusive, you won’t be working there for long. A classic feature of the most successful startups is regular pruning for optimum efficiency.
You have to remember: ‘nothing you do is important, but it is important that you do it.’ To simplify: you are both useful to the company and dispensable. The trick is in being useful a lot of the time that your dispensability is nearly never brought up in conversation.
A startup is not like your traditional company; it is anything but. Understand this when you sign up. Then become the human equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife.
Final note: I never saw anyone who stuck with the 9-5 traditional work-hour paradigm and stayed in a startup for long.
Editor’s note: Justin Irabor is a platonic tech lover. Father figure. He calls himself a digital spider on a digital spiderweb, spinning yarns. He is head of Digital Marketing at Hotels.ng. He tweets at @TheVunderkind