Seven weeks, thirty-five days, 280 hours on site, countless sleepless hours off-site, and it all comes down to this.
Six days from today.
What does it feel like to have to wrap up seven whirlwind weeks, thirty-two new best friends, hundreds of community connections, and a shiny new skill set into a sixty second pitch to a room full of potential hiring managers?
Overwhelming and anxiety-ridden? Sad and exciting? How about all of the above!
You know, you sit in your new Startup Institute seat those first couple of days and listen to the long sappy tales of camaraderie and greatness from wide-eyed recent alumni and think to yourself, “Wow, I hope this thing can actually live up to all these grandiose expectations.” And then a funny thing happens - it does.
Thanksgiving was gone in the blink of an eye and now we are in the midst of the holiday season. Soon, employees everywhere will be taking well-deserved time off to recharge their batteries and perhaps even remind themselves why they put in the hours throughout the year. For those in the startup world, where the boundary between work and play can be nebulous, maintaining sanity and perspective may require forcing oneself to put the laptop away.
For myself, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving did not bring to mind the old familiar thoughts of family, food, and a long weekend. Rather, I spent November planning for a Black Friday promotion to increase visibility among holiday shoppers. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a late night, not because I was out partying with friends, but because I was making sure our virtual assistants were prepared to pick up the slack so I could take the day off without losing momentum. This certainly is nota horror story; I am sure there are plenty of hungry entrepreneurs who continued hacking right through dinner. Startup founders and employees are running a sprint without a visible finish line, and it’s best to assume the competition is not resting.
People love to say “those who can’t do teach”. Maybe that’s true, maybe not, I’m not sure. In my four years of teaching, I have learned to DO many things. I have learned to present effectively, to understand different learning styles and build expertise in areas ranging from leadership development to emotional intelligence. I have learned a lot that I never thought would be part of my skill repertoire.
Teaching is really about putting yourself in the mind of another and bridging outcome in the future to their current understanding of a topic. To teach students the fundamentals of emotional intelligence, for example, I think about what they know about the concept and anecdotally from life experience. From there, I build upon their experiences and how they will interpret the content of the message. I never thought that I would be building my skills around empathy as much as a teacher.
As the end of the year approaches, you may start to reflect on both the good and bad professional experiences. Before you forget about the mistakes you made in 2013, there is still time to end the year on a good note for your career.
First, focus on the positives and leverage those moments. Whether it was a promotion, heading up a new project, adding to the company’s bottom line or recruiting their newest hire – you did good kid! How can you continue this momentum into the new year. Secondly, here are some tips to keep it moving:
Give Thanks – You would be surprised what a hand written note can do for your professional relationships. People love to be thanked for their efforts and time, and to know that they made an impact. Make a list of your business contacts or referrals, employees or coworking peeps. Include a few sentiments of thanks but be specific. Remember to keep the door open and say that you look forward to working with them in the 2014.
Review Your Goals – It is not just the big man’s job in the red suit to manage a list. It is your job too. If you have yet to do so, start making actionable list of accomplishments for your professional life in 2014. If you want to earn a managerial role, learn a new tool or software, or maintain a better work/life balance. Whatever your goals are, write them down! At the end of the year, check back and see what you accomplished, what you started but may not have finished, and what you still need to tackle. Performing this simple exercise will keep you on track and honest with your progress.
Update Your Profiles – LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, resumes – they should all be updated to get you ready for the year ahead. Think of all that you accomplished in 2013! Be sure to document major accomplishments so that other colleagues or potential employers can see your skills. It might be a time consuming process, but your career will thank you for it. Check out our post on building a personal brand.
Best of luck in 2014!
Adrian Finch is a Marketing Associate at Startup Institute Boston. Say hi to her on Twitter @anfinch1.
Ijeoma S. Nwatu is the Marketing & Community Manager at Startup Institute New York. Say hello on Twitter @ijeomasnwatu.
This month, I challenged myself by participating in Startup Weekend Boston (@SWBoston). It was a unique, fast-paced experience that was a true crash-course in team building, communication and entrepreneurship. If you are thinking about participating in a similar event, read on to hear my experience.
Opening Night: Pitching and forming a team
On Friday night, attendees pitch company ideas that they want to work on throughout the weekend. Teams are formed organically around proposals with the most votes.
Microphone in hand, I stood up and pitched an idea that I had thought about for over a year - a shopping platform with features similar to Pandora, where users create an item or category search based on their likes and dislikes. The results are updated in real-time, and can then be saved and shared with friends. To my surprise, I had the most popular suggestion in the room.
The holidays are in full-swing, Christmas music is blasting in department stores, and everyone is spending a little more time with friends and family. Inevitably, you will run into someone you have not seen in a while - a distant relative or someone you went to high school with - and in that moment, you have to share your story with them.
“So, what do you do?”, they ask.
As someone working in and around startups, you launch into your thirty second pitch. “I’m working on a startup that is basically Airbnb for dog houses. We’re working on an MVP, using lean methodology, hacking away to try and disrupt this market. Specifically, I’ve been curating all of our content, working on SEO/SEM, and gaining traction with some early adopters.”
Can you take the lead on that? This can sometimes be a dreaded question, because taking the lead on the project often means extra emails, begging other team members to meet deadlines and miscommunication about expectations. When working at a startup, there is no time to waste! Here are a few best practices that can help take the confusion out of managing projects, no matter how complex.
Set Clear Expectations
It is important that everyone working on a project knows the expectations from the beginning. Before starting on major tasks, have a discussion as a team about what completing them looks like. It is helpful to document the expectations for different steps so that the whole team can go back and revisit them when they need more clarity.
Outline of the Project Steps and Milestones
If your project is larger or long-term it is wise to build in milestones. Try setting up a list in Asana, Trello or another project management tool. This will help everyone on the project see tasks, understand key milestones and track due dates. The team at Asana has a great video about setting up your project.
I’m thankful for the startup community’s openness. A friend of mine who recently moved back to California used to comment how it can be difficult to know people in Boston. The one exception to that was the people in the tech community. They are always willing to sit down, chat and have a drink.
- I’m thankful for when the T finally shows up.
- I’m thankful that Boston startups love and support our city. Days after the marathon bombing, an effort led by TUGG (who I am also thankful for) rallied the startup community and raised approximately $300,000 for the victims of that senseless tragedy.
- I’m thankful that it is almost socially acceptable to wear shorts when it is 50 degrees in November.
Startup Institute has humble beginnings in the Boston tech community. We have grown from Boston Startup School to two additional domestic locations, Startup Institute New York and Startup Institute Chicago. The Director of Startup Institute Boston, Allan Telio, offers his gratitude during this season of thanks, courtesy of BostInno.
Read the rest of Allan’s appreciation here.
Join Allan at Startup Institute Boston by applying for the spring program. Early deadline is December 1st.