Run your life like a startup

Hierarchies, processes and protocols. These are just some of the things I’m allergic to in most companies and corporations. I understand why they exist but I prefer to work in an environment where you can focus on actual work rather than trying to work the system.

After a year at my first job as a programmer, I was offered a pay raise. In terms of percentage it was pretty high but my original pay was very low. So let’s just say I wasn’t overly excited about the whole thing.

I went to my manager to ask him what I need to do to earn more and I was disappointed by his answer. He said it depends whether there’s an opening for me to be promoted or if they land a big client. Both factors that’s completely out of my control.

It was then I learnt certain unspoken rules in most companies. You can only get promoted if your senior is promoted or leave for another company. Even then, seniority takes precedence. Both in terms of age and how long you have been working in the company.

As a 22 year old kid who have just joined the company for a year, there is no chance for me to move up the ranks anytime soon. My manager did all he could by involving me in different aspects of the business but even his hands are tied. 

Thanks to the open source movement and plummeting cost of starting a business, I had the option to start my own. Armed with a laptop that cost me most of my savings, I set out to decide my own fate.

It was during this time I learned about tech startups and was inspired by how 37signals (now Basecamp) built a multi million dollar business with a small team.

Since then, I’ve been involved with startups one way or the other. I’ve tried to build my own and failed. I’ve worked with a few of them and I just can’t see myself working in a non startup environment. In fact, I love startups so much that I run my life like one.

Growth is everything

A startup is a company designed to grow exponentially. Although most of them are in the technology industry, it is by no means a requirement. The most essential ingredient in a startup is growth.

In order to grow quickly, a startup is usually designed to scale from the start. Technologies like the internet and mobile lend themselves well towards this goal. This is why most startups are tech companies.

I believe growth is what life is all about. And I don’t mean just physically. We should be seeking growth in other aspects of our lives. Learning is a lifelong process. Without growth, there is no life.

At work, being able to grow your skills is one of the best way to retain talents. By focusing on the growth your teams, you can improve their efficiency, keep them engaged and challenged. 

Innovate or die

Startups are also synonymous with innovation. Every corporation is trying to figure out how to innovate so they don’t fall behind. I’m sure you know what happened to newspaper publishers and retail stores.

One of the reasons why startups are able to innovate better and faster than a traditional company is their structure. With a relatively flat structure and a cross functional setup, they are able to be to run experiments and test new ideals without being bogged down by the usual red tapes and bureaucracy.

You can’t innovate if you are bounded by the conventional metrics like profit and loss. The mindset of an innovator is very differently than the one of an optimiser. One is trying to find the next big thing while another is trying to make most of the current situation.

Personally, I love playing and experimenting with new technologies. I will always prefer a job that gives me the freedom to try new ideas rather than the one that pays more. And in life, you should try out new things and innovate whenever you can else you risk falling behind.

Be agile

Another reason why startups are able to disrupt existing incumbents of their industry is their agility. Startups adapt quickly to the changing landscape by adopting latest technology and innovations. And when things are not working out, they pivot and try something else instead.

A lot of companies know they need to embrace the internet and mobile revolution. But without the right structure, mindset and support from top management, most of these companies lack the agility to adapt and react to change in a timely matter.

We need to approach life with the same agility in mind. We should to be open minded enough to experiment and try new things. Embrace change instead of resisting it.

And like all things in life, it don’t always work out. Allow yourself to fail. Just make sure to try again. Like a startup, be agile and pivot when you need to.

Stay lean

Because a startup is a company searching for a business model, it will usually raise some funding and investments to survive till it’s profitable. And if the funding runs out before that (which happens a lot) then it’s game over.

This means it’s crucial for a startup to keep tabs on its runway. This is startup-speak for how long your funds can last before you run out of money. 

So in order to make the most out of your runway, you need to keep your operations lean. It also mean you should not commit yourself to something until you have validated it first. 

I strive to live a simple and lean life. I keep my expenses to the minimum and save as much money as possible. This will allow me to have a longer runway to deal with unexpected circumstances. 

Understand your (business) model

If you joined any startup bootcamp before, you may have come acrossed the Business Model Canvas. It’s a template that helps you design and document the business model of your startup.

The canvas is a great tool to visualise the different aspects of your business. By mapping out your business, you gain an understanding on how things work to help you improve it.

In the middle of the canvas, you are to write down the unique value proposition of your business. It’s a statement that describes why customers should buy your product and services. In some ways, it’s also what your business exists and stands for.

Similarly in life, it’s better to have an understanding of your purpose and mission. It serves as your North Star and help guide you in every decision you make. Figure out what makes you unique so you can make the most out of life.

Ultimately, it’s about you

Many startup founders start their company because of a burning desired to fulfil some mission and purpose. There’s a vision in their head they are trying to bring to life and they will do everything they can to make it a reality.

If you run your life like a startup, you must accept that although you may have a vision for how things should be, it will not always work out in your favour. But that is fine because you can always adapt, innovate and pivot.

As long as you continue to grow everyday, be as agile as possible, stay lean and understand what truly matters to you, it is only a matter of time before you achieve your dream.