Embrace The Chaos Of Working At A Startup, It's Part Of The Reward

It’s an interesting time to be working in tech, especially at a startup, but I’ve got a feeling that a lot fewer people are cut out for the high powered, high input and high expectations environment that comes with working at a startup.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with someone who works at a startup. We both shared our thoughts on startups and he did hit on something a whole lot of people have had concerns with especially at early stage ventures — roles, job descriptions and chaos.

While he obviously enjoys what he does, he found the lack of structure and a properly defined job function a big issue. I listened to him for about ten minutes while he went on about “why they needs to be properly defined roles, job functions and the need to deal with one task at a time.”

This person, I’d assume is coming from a big company, where structures have been entrenched into the company’s ethos and bureaucracy is at its core.

Sadly, this isn’t the same with startups.

As startups grow and find their rhythm, properly defined roles and job functions will fall into place naturally while this will eventually happen, there’s no guarantee that you as an employee wouldn’t have to play intersection at cross-functional teams and find a need to wear multiple hats.

The ability to move really fast and get things done are some of the things that define really successful startups.

In the early stage of a startup, experimentation and pivoting are sure-fire recipes to get the most out of anything.

As the market changes and moves on, a startup must adapt to these changes and in most cases, these changes happen at breakneck speed. This is only natural and employees must be ready to embrace this change.

When < ahref="http://www.konga.com/" target="_blank">Konga launched in July of 2012, it started out as a pure-play retailer — buy/hold inventory and sell for a profit — but today, the case is different. We have had to move on to becoming a marketplace.

Consequentially, roles have evolved and job functions have also been consolidated. Roles at startups are fluid and for employees to thrive in this space, they have to be flexible — learn, unlearn, adapt and execute. Basically, rinse and repeat.

Before fully settling in as a software engineer, I did a lot of different things at Konga, being its 5th employee, I did content/product uploads. I have done stock count, a bit of customer service. I once climbed a 40 feet pole to help install a radio (I’m acrophobic). I used to code HTML newsletter and send out to thousands of subscribers daily. I’ve done data analysis and generated tens of reports. Chased vendors and contractors.

I’ve also done UAT (user acceptability tests) for software release. I have picked, packed items and gotten them ready for dispatch. One time I had to act as a tech support staff — fix PCs, make sure the phone lines for customer service were up, work with ISPs to ensure a stable internet — I have done them all.

While some of these things were not necessarily part of my job function (my role was that of a technology associate), it allowed me the opportunity to learn and understand how different parts of the business fit together and I’m grateful for those opportunities. At a very high level, I’ve a good grasp of the challenges e-commerce companies face, especially in emerging markets like Nigeria.

I want to believe most people come to work at startups with a preconceived notion, they probably expect bean bags, catered meals and Google-esque perks. We are not there yet, at least in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I know a handful of people who took on tasks that weren’t part of their job function, they executed these tasks flawlessly and these tasks morphed into roles and they are absolutely nailing it. Most of these people have moved on to other places and I can only imagine them as rock stars in their new roles.

I have to be brutally honest with anyone coming to work at a startup, if you’re one who enjoys too much structure, unnecessary bureaucracy and hate speed, you will absolutely be frustrated here. Things can get really tough and in most cases downright chaotic albeit fun. If you must come here, you have to be ready to roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done.

I enjoy the startup environment. If I had to choose again, I will still come back here. Startup builds you, they help you discover your nascent skills and ultimately develop you into a strong, a resilient and a much better individual.

There will be tears, but things aren’t entirely gloomy, you will smile too. You will cling glasses when you hit milestones and have really beautiful memories. Enjoy the chaos, it’s part of the reward.

I'd love to hear from you

Celestine Omin

About Celestine Omin

Software Engineer at Konga, VC backed e-commerce in Nigeria. Lead maintainer and developer of NSEFinance, an experimental API for the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Convener of The Lagos GitHub meetup