Why you should work for a Start-up at some point in your career

In September 2003, I took the plunge. I left the security of my job at a large corporation and jumped ship, moved city, and took up a new job  working for a start-up  – it was to be one of my the best decisions I’ve made in my professional working life and I wanted to share with you why I think everybody should at some point in their career go and work for a start-up.



Working for a start-up provides you with a “nuts and bolts” view of how a business is run, from warehousing to accounts to customer service through to marketing on a shoestring budget delivering a positive ROI – it offers you a complete 360 degree understanding of an organisation and more importantly the value of teamwork, resource and how to survive in a fast changing environment.

I was recently in a discussion with a group who wanted to enhance and develop their Content marketing skills and knowledge and wanted to know if there was a relevant MBA course that offered such advice? I don’t know about you but my response to them was the best way to learn was to get out there and do it yourself. In other words:

  • Create a blog
  • Identify a subject matter
  • Craft your unique selling point
  • Begin to develop and perfect your blogging
  • Read relevant online journals and forums on content marketing best practise
  • Apply inbound marketing techniques to watch your content marketing develop and grow

The cost to do this? FREE

The cost to complete an MBA? $111,418 (source: The Real Cost of an MBA),


The majority of the skills I’ve acquired in a career in digital marketing I can safely attribute to learning on the job and applying my reading to real life scenarios, the majority of this being in start-ups. So I thought I’d provide a run down from my own time in start-ups the types of life skills you can expect to acquire…and they don’t cost you anything to acquire.





  • Think creatively – You don’t necessarily have a large marketing budget or a team to fall back let alone a marketing agency at your beckoning call.  You need to think creatively, to understand your audience and to think differently and fast – what sets you apart? What can you offer your customers and new customers something your competitors can’t?


  • Learn to fail – You can’t stand still in a start-up, you have to keep on pushing yourself and the company in not being afraid to try something different, putting something out there in the market that maybe, this time it’s going to connect. If you fail, you fail, dust yourself off and get back on it again.


  • Hustle – Whether negotiating, building connections or generating a business development pipeline that could better impact the business – learn to pick up the phone, email and build connections and more importantly, create a personality of trust, reputation and eager to learn.


  • Adapt your skills – In a start-up you’re opening yourself up to working and operating in a number of different areas. One day you may find yourself operating the affiliate program when the next day you could be getting into the warehouse and ensuring products are being shipped out for delivery.


  • Teach – The business may not have the time (or budget) for you to take a week off on a distance learning digital marketing course, you had to teach yourself on the job, read industry blogs and forum and apply your knowledge. At the same time, it is important you give the time to train up staff in the company.


  • The art of shipping – Not being afraid to push the button on your campaign, promotion or making that connection – Whatever it is, making sure you are continuing to deliver and to continue to raise the bar.


  • Business Development – Learning to add value to the business. To think laterally and creatively as to what you can offer the business that has not been thought of before – is there a connection to be made, is there a new channel to drive new revenue streams?


  • There is no manual – The world of digital and the connection economy has no manual to follow. If you’re waiting to be told what to do next you need to step up your game and your career and begin to realise you need to be making those decisions for yourself


  • Don’t wait for permission – I’m not saying “to hell with it, just do it anyway!” If you’re smart, you would have assessed the situation, understood the opportunity, and learn to take the positive step in making it happen for the benefit of the business.




  • Mentor  – Learn to share your knowledge with your team or wider business so they can understand your viewpoint and to skill up the rest of the business.


  • Reinvent – Learn to adapt your skill-set, re-train and evaluate your strengths as to what you can offer the business. Always be looking for the next opportunity to re-invent your digital marketing skill-set and personal development


  • In the trenches – Never lose sight of working in the “coal face”. A big career mistake is to assume in taking a “management” job moves you away from doing the front end work. You should always find the time to develop and retain this skill-set. Working in digital marketing it makes no sense to move “up” the corporate ladder and away from the hands-on world of running a PPC campaign, Keyword research audit or affiliate recruitment campaign for example


  • ROI – Whatever you’re doing you develop a core focus on what’s the return on investment? Working for a start-up you really value budget you’re given and the need to ensure what ever you do spend on marketing you better be damn sure you’re making a healthy return for the business. This is a life skill I’ve always been thankful for to ensure I’m always thinking of this performance metric


  • Idea generator – Are you practising the art of idea generation? Every day when I worked for my first start-up we had a weekly catch-up with the whole organisation where we all got into a room a generated ideas onto a wall as to what the business could be doing, something that’s different to the competition, something that would delight our customers


  • Collaborator – With budgets tight, you learn to befriend and develop good social relationships with other like minded start-ups (non compete!) to share ideas and thoughts as to how we could help one another out


  • Fast track learning skills – Invest in your own time to learn and develop your skill-sets with online learning (ideally actionable training) and constantly be reading. The digital marketing sector continues to develop at such a fast pace that you need to ensure you’re keeping your knowledge up to date and more importantly, identifying ideas that your start-up could use in the context of your market
  • Because the world’s moving that way – Quite simply, more of us are going to be working for start-ups or by ourselves over the next decade.


I’m pretty certain the majority of the skills I listed, you’re not going to learn on an MBA course?  Getting yourself involved in a real business where you need to make real decisions that constantly puts you in a challenging environment is second to none.


Subscribe to my Digital Strategy Mailing list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *