A startup is a bunch of people who run around like headless chicken trying to make sure that not everything burns down. Don’t like that image? It conveys the chaos that goes on in startups. Individuals who start a company have lots of energy; if you want to work there you need to be able to deal with the autonomy, and the lack of direction. It is up to you to create the direction, to anticipate what is needed for your company to grow, where you can add value, and what your colleagues need. That being said, it is lots of fun, I have been told.
The startup Institute tries to prepare you for this world. It’s an immersive 8 week program whose official hours are just that – official, and nobody listen to the bell. It offers you to specialize in back-end, front-end, technical marketing, or sales & account management. But technical skills are not enough. Jessica, Amanda, and Michael, panel members of the startup Institute’s open house on Wednesday September 9th, stressed that soft skills – motivation, communication, and empathy – are key. These help you to bring out the value of your hard skills. Lisa Schumacher, program director, summarized the discussion on soft skills and hard skills as an endless back and forth. It’s not a question of either or.
Next to teaching hard skills and providing an environment to practice soft skills, the Startup Institute is also a great way to find your passion, at least in the opinion of some panel members. It ends with a TalentPitch. You need to pitch yourself, like a super-fast elevator pitch. You can not clearly articulate what value you can add to anything, if you do not know what drives you. Your passion is a crucial driver for you to be motivated, to seek autonomy and challenges, and for you to go the extra mile.
Michael disagreed and urged people to “get passionate about getting good at something”. But as a learning scientist, let me add my two cents about what makes people become experts: Persistence! Think about learning a musical instrument. If you are not passionate about the instrument, you will get bored about playing the same piece over and over and over and over. Until you nailed it. I see that in my 5 year old. She might not be able to concentrate as long as an adult, but during her violin practices she enjoys playing the songs several times, learning to spot mistakes, and starting again (and again and again). Of course, she needs us – her parents – to scaffold her learning. And this is what the Startup Institute is offering to individuals of any age who want to work in a Startup: A safe environment to learn, guided by experienced instructors.
This is their advice I crystallized from the stories of the panel members:
1. Ask questions and seek feedback!
2. Build your network. You never know when you need what expertise.
3. Be passionate about what you are doing.