How to Make the Most of Your First 30 Days at a Startup

How to Make the Most of Your First 30 Days at a Startup

Day 1.

You got a job at the startup of your dreams and today’s your first day. You set up your new computer, signed in to your work email, and are now looking at your calendar for your onboarding meetings.

Suddenly, your computer explodes with messages, meeting requests, forms to sign, and applications to download.

The first few weeks at any job can often feel overwhelming to new hires. How do you know what you should prioritize?

We spoke with startup thought leaders about what you can expect from your first 30 days. These tips will ensure you hit the ground running.



Familiarize Yourself with the Product and Mission Statement

It’s easy to focus too heavily on your individual role early on. After all, a lot of your initial onboarding will center on your day-to-day responsibilities and the tech stack that you’ll be working with.

However, what’s essential in those first few weeks is understanding the big picture problems that your company is trying to solve.

Fela Oni, Senior Product Manager at RackTop Systems, affirms that the main goal of your first 30 days is to “have the company’s product installed” and “begin learning how it works as a delivered product.”

Here are a few ways you can learn more about the product while on the job:

  • Schedule a meeting with a product manager to discuss the history of the product and why people use it.
  • Talk with a teammate who formerly held your job title or responsibilities about why your role matters and how your contributions will impact the rest of the company.
  • Attend or view the recording of a sales call so you can understand the key pain points that the customer cares about.
  • Start exploring the product yourself to better empathize with the experience of your end users.

It’s likely that your company has already instilled at least one of these tasks into your standard onboarding procedure.

But setting aside time for your own investigation of the product will help you better identify the central mission of your company and how your role supports it.


Build Relationships with Your Team

Connecting with your team members is just as crucial as connecting with your customers.

As onboarding meetings, procedures, and responsibilities begin to pile up, you may struggle to find room on your plate for 1:1 meetings with everyone on your team. But try your best to fit in a coffee chat or virtual lunch with at least one or two teammates within your first 30 days. Strengthening communication with your team opens more opportunities for collaboration and makes it easier to reach out when you need help.

Furthermore, don’t miss out on social events like Lunch ‘N’ Learns.

These meetings offer you the opportunity to connect with multiple team members in a relaxed setting while also giving you the chance to learn a new skill!

Pro Tip: If you’re finding it difficult to meet with someone on your team, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone from another department like product, data science, or design. Learning about all aspects of the company and laying the groundwork for cross-functional collaboration will guide you toward building a stronger product and ultimately help you develop the soft skills that will skyrocket your engineering career.


Formalize Collaboration Practices

Once you’ve met your team, it’s important to establish procedures for working on projects together.

Chris White, Chief Technology Officer at Prefect, encourages the creation of rubber duck debugging channels for promoting collaboration between team members at a startup.

He explains, “Everybody knows about the rubber duck in programming and how it’s easier to debug code if you explain it line-by-line to a duck. But we kind of take it to the next level where we talk about rubberducking as a person-to-person thing. If someone goes into a Slack room and says, ‘Hey, I’m trying to think through this problem,’ then anyone joins and acts as the rubber duck. The person starts talking out the problem and almost always that person has their moment of clarity and they’re like, ‘I’m good. I can go finish my work now.’”

Kerry Munz, Chief Technology Officer at Vendr, notes that “building in public” like this often requires humility and honesty about exposing your thoughts and mistakes to the rest of your team.

However, setting up formal pathways for collaboration when you’re first starting out will make you feel “a lot more comfortable” in your workplace environment and ultimately enables you to “fix things much faster.”


Dive in and Start Learning

With the colossal amount of information that you’re presented with in the first 30 days, you’ll wonder if merely listening to the wisdom of your team members will be enough to make everything stick.

But learning is not a passive activity.

To Chris White, knowledge “must be forged.”

Learning doesn’t happen when you simply hear an idea for the first time. You have to “work with it and push its limits.”

So as you take in all of that information as a new hire, don’t just sit on what you’ve heard. Question it, rephrase it, set aside hand-on time to practice with the new technology and procedures, and talk things through with your team members until you’ve found your bearings around the big picture items for your new role.

As you learn about your startup, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the problem that we’re solving?
  • Who is our target customer?
  • How did the company come to be?
  • How does my role fit into the larger picture?
  • What system architecture will you be contributing to?
  • What are the best coding practices to use in this role?
  • What is the procedure for asking for help?
  • How can I measure success in my role?


Find Mentorship Within the Company

One of the largest differences between startup and corporate environments is the level of access to internal mentorship. While corporate environments often have formal systems for new hires to receive guided mentorship, startup companies generally don’t have the resources to develop a strong support system for 1:1 training and coaching.

With that in mind, you’ll want to take initiative on finding mentorship within the company as soon as you can.

Arun Nagarajan, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at BigSpring, shares this advice with new hires: “Find one person on your team who can support you for a while and help to convey the mission statement.” Once you build that rapport with a leader about the key goals and values of the company, it will be a lot easier to reach out to them later about technical training and specific questions regarding your career development within the organization.

Pro Tip: Don’t give up if you can’t find a mentor within the company. Leverage your network and speak with an external mentor who has experience in similar roles and startups as you.


Create an Open Dialogue with Leadership about Role Expectations

Many of your initial onboarding conversations will involve your manager assigning you tasks and responsibilities that support the company’s mission.

However, you need to make sure that these conversations go both ways.

Just as your manager communicates what they expect from your role, you need to communicate your expectations as well.

Be upfront about your interests and your dislikes. Talk with your manager about your professional goals and where you’d like to be in the future. Kerry Munz explains, “Companies can find the right places for people who have good conversations with their leaders around their strengths rather than the people who avoid the hard conversations about unclear roles.”

Likewise, make sure you find time as a new hire to speak with your manager about carving out pathways for advancement and promotion within the organization. Having this conversation early on will give you sense a direction in your role and help you build your own career path at a startup.

If nothing else, discussing your career ladder during your onboarding is a great way to demonstrate to your manager that you’re committed to the company for the long haul!


Set Clear Work-Life Boundaries…

In those first 30 days, you may find yourself wanting to say “Yes!” to everything that’s being asked of you.

After all, you want to prove that your company made the right choice by hiring you.

But in the long run?

This is the recipe for burnout.

When you’re still a new hire, the only person who has a decent gauge on the amount of work that you can handle is you. If you agree to take on a plethora of new responsibilities at once, be sure that you can communicate to your team that this is a type of workload that you can handle.

Likewise, don’t neglect having a conversation with your manager about finding a healthy work-life balance. It may be an uncomfortable discussion to have with a new boss but setting clear expectations about realistic workloads will pay dividends when you want to plan your time off or when there’s a busy season.

Just make sure you have that conversation sooner rather than later.

It’s much easier to set work limits when you’re a new hire than when you’ve already been in your role for a while.

Pro Tip: If you’re struggling to begin that conversation about setting boundaries as a startup developer, try asking your manager about how they manage their boundaries. This is a great way to start thinking about finding a good compromise between what you’re willing to give and delivering what the company needs.


…But Also Show Initiative (Don’t Wait to Get Started on Projects!)

Larger corporations may dissuade or even object to you working on projects in the first 30 days.

But at startups, this is a different story.

When you’re working on small teams, you have the capacity to bring a substantially higher level of impact than you could at a large company.

So as you find time to learn the company product, engage with your colleagues, and set clear expectations for your role with your manager, don’t be surprised if you start being asked to take on projects the moment you step through the door.

But how do you know which to prioritize?

Chris White explains that one of the benefits of working at a startup is having the freedom to select which projects you want to spend time completing.

He elaborates, “It’s very self-directed. One engineer came to me and said, ‘Every time I meet with my manager, she starts out by asking me, “What do you want to work on for the next few weeks? I’ll help make sure that whatever you’re wanting to do fits in with our priorities for our product.’”

And if you can’t find projects to work on with your team, Fela Oni notes that startups offer a variety of ways for you to add value “outside of your assigned role” because of their flexibility.

Although you should still prioritize any pressing responsibilities that fit within the parameters of your position, assisting other teams as a new hire is a great way to expand the scope of the product as well as show initiative and dedication to your manager.

Pro Tip: Engineers at smaller companies often get the opportunity to onboard new folks after a few months. If you’re looking for a project to get started on as you’re learning the company’s systems, trying to improve the onboarding process for future hires by taking note of everything you appreciated and disliked about your onboarding is an easy way to show that you are a team player.

Now Take a Deep Breath

Once you’ve created a plan for yourself for your first 30 days, take a moment to relax.

The mountain of information that get delivered to your desk in those first 30 days will feel overwhelming.

But you’re not doing this alone.

Your manager, your mentors, and your team members will all be there to help walk you through every part of your new role so you feel comfortable and confident with your new responsibilities.

So take a deep breath, follow the guidance of your peers and mentors, and be proud of the work that you accomplished to get to this new role!

Jonas Fryer

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