Working at a startup, you can often feel like you’re lost in space — thrown into the unknown, feeling lost and confused.
It’s a strange world, and something you have to quickly adjust to if you’re going to survive. The hours are longer, the workflow is intense and the expectations are like nothing you’ll have known before.
Just like the Star Trek: Voyager crew, suddenly realizing they’re stuck far away from home with only their wits to survive.
…Before you get outraged by me comparing a fun and exciting job to being lost in space 70,000 light years from home let me give you the most basic comparison.
I’m having a great time at Process Street; it’s exciting being a part of a relatively new company, exploring different ways to make us improve and grow. I believe the Voyager crew, who I will be using for my comparisons, were pretty content too.
We’re on a mission of exploration, have our own prime directive to follow and we have a goal. We’re dedicated to bringing this baby home in the most efficient way possible (growth hacking, am I right?).
But there’s much more than just the superficial parallels you can draw. The similarities between being lost in space and working for a startup are endless, and I’m sure reading this you will come up with your own similarities — especially considering that Star Trek has many franchises and is not, in fact, the only sci-fi out there.
Now, let’s get to the day to day similarities and see what Star Trek has taught me about working for a startup.
Learning to Use Alien Tools
I’ve already mentioned before that I’ve never been a very techy person. However, when working for a startup you must adapt. We each have our own tasks, our own duties and we have to find ways to ensure we are the most productive and resourceful people out there.
To top it all off, you have to find the best tools that work and filter out the ones that don’t. There are thousands of types of tools but we’ve have covered plenty — there’s tools to improve your writing workflow, email productivity, create gifs, take notes, even tools for saving time (and we stand by it!).
These are things that we would probably not just find on our own, unless we were thrown so far out of our comfort zone that we would find it easier to learn the use of a new piece of technology than keep experiencing malfunctions such as late blog posts, messed up processes or missed appointments.
Day Shifts And Night Shifts
These days you will often see startups running remote teams, rather than operating from an office. There’s companies like Buffer, Zapier, us here at Process Street or one of these remote startups you can get hired by, all of who run almost entirely remote teams.
Working in a remote team has its perks, such as never having to leave the comfort of your living room, never have to deal with the weather and keeping away from the office flu, and you also don’t always have to think about what you’re wearing (however, staying in pajamas all day is not advisable).
But remote teams tend to be scattered all around the world, therefore, we end up having day shift / night shift situation. We all have some hours of the day where all of us can individually chat to one another – but team conversations can end up being a proper pain!
I work closely with the content promotion team and our team consists of people from all over the place! We have people from Philippines, India, United Kingdom and more. We also have a weekly call, which I schedule despite finding time zones and DST to be the most complex riddles.
I work just as closely with the content creation team and this team, again, is having a call (twice a week), but this time, we have to arrange it so it works for Europe and America. The third call I’m on is the whole content marketing call which involves people from India, Europe, and America.
To make that possible some of us have to be awake really early, some of us – really late. There’s night shifts, days shifts, emergency shifts.
And, just like Harry Kim when he was assigned for a bridge duty for the first time, we too sometimes find it difficult to deal with the responsibility of being in charge of the night shift (which is our day shift, but American night shift so… kind of a mess).
We get our moments of panic and feeling like waking our Captain, other times we feel like we know exactly what to do and it gets to our heads. Sometimes we do something extremely stupid that needs to be fixed by the day shift or requires a briefing, that means another scheduling and we’re back to the timezone issue…
Keep Your Personal Log Not So Personal
A good way to tackle the night and day shift issue is by keeping everything visible to the rest of the team. We have a public chat, we make reports and we keep all our work visible to the other members of the team.
It helps not only when the next shift needs to pick up tasks, but also in case of absence – vacations, illness, emergencies or any other reason which might make a team member unavailable at the time. Besides it’s always easier to just show an existing process than explaining everything from the beginning.
Nothing should be kept away from the team – there’s in nothing that is unimportant enough, even if it is your personal scribble of the next posting schedules or future plans for promotion. Someone, who has access to it might pick up on it and see it from a different perspective, give their own insight and collaborate on the project to create something even better.
You Start to Feel Like a Family
When you’re thrown into the experience, you end up spending a lot of time with people you never knew before. Coming from different backgrounds, job experiences, training, we all must learn to adapt to the new working style – like the Maquis adapting to Starfleet protocols or Seven learning to speak to the crew without being rude.
You might have your differences and disagreements, but these are the people you have to learn to work with because you will be together for a long time and you will be seeing each other a lot. That also means you have to make sure that the team feels comfortable with each other.
On Voyager, they had Neelix to take care of the ship’s social needs and morale but that’s not exactly a job description found in a startup’s job listing. To go around that and still make sure that the team morale is intact and everyone gets to mingle we have team activities such as game tournaments or movie events.
Let me explain more in detail. We had a tradition where a person would be selected randomly to pick the best worst sci-fi movie they know. It sounds confusing but makes a lot of sense really – the movie has to be so bad it’s actually hilariously awesome.
We would then watch the film and discuss it next week when a new person was randomly selected to pick a movie. It went on for a while until we all got so busy we ended up communicating purely in giphys – but more on that later.
We also have a company Hearthstone tournament in progress. We play with basic decks to make the game fair and have awesome prizes for the winner. But more than that – we did a random draw making sure that team members that haven’t ever talked to each other got a chance to get to know each other.
Team building at its finest!
Working For a Startup Forces You to Learn New Things
Getting back to the lack of time – working for a startup begins pretty clear. You are hired for a specific task, you do your 1 thing every day for a certain amount of time. But then the team grows, the company expands and you have to move with it.
New tasks appear; tasks you were not ready for, tasks you had no idea even existed, tasks that you never imagined doing. And now the time has come when you have to become an expert.
It also comes with finding how to do million things at once, learning to compress the tasks that took you all day in 6 hours to give some time for the other tasks, later 4 hours to give time for new tasks and so on.
The amazing part is that you can! Being dropped in the middle of it, you have no other choice but to adapt, become more efficient and keep going. You are constantly evolving, bettering yourself, exploring new things — and isn’t that the whole point of Starfleet?
Address Technical Issues First
Just like on a starship – working for a startup means you have a system in place for emergencies. The main vessel that keeps you going, and the additional tasks of exploration. But without the vessel, you can’t go anywhere. If the ship is experiencing an issue – the main focus needs to be put there.
Of course, when an engineering issue hits Voyager, no one asks Tuvok (Chief Tactical Officer) to fix it (even though he is the CTO… ha-ha). The department responsible for each section of the ship jumps to solve the issue.
But don’t let that fool you – while in the marketing department we can’t be that useful at hands-on helping, we have our own protocol to follow and everyone is involved and doing all they can until the issue is fixed and the ship is running smoothly again.
The Bridge Doesn’t Always Know What Happens on Deck 15
As the company grows, it becomes more and more difficult for one person to oversee and follow everyone’s day.
People are distributed in teams and supervisors and at some point it becomes similar to Voyager — the captain has no idea what’s happening on the lower decks.
There’s two problems with that.
Firstly, it’s not great for team morale. It’s difficult to track each person’s mental state, how comfortable they feel in the company, what concerns they have, can they get along with colleagues and feel comfortable with their supervisors.
That, however, can be fixed with the approach mentioned before – create some company activities – online for remote teams, company events for offices.
Another way to ensure that the people are happy is to get a fresh perspective – have someone from the teamwork with people from different teams on a project basis – an away mission if you will.
A person who is not involved with these people every day will have a different look on how the team is working together, see if there’s someone who’s not participating, feeling happy, comfortable to speak out. And, most importantly, address it. Someone might be a great worker but can feel out of place, unappreciated, unheard or unimportant.
While teams that get along have better results and are more efficient, there’s a bigger issue that might cause the company a much greater loss than a slightly slower workflow. And that brings me to my second point.
The Talented Lost Sheep
Having a person unenthusiastically working on a project down on deck 15 might indicate that they are not in the right place for themselves and the company.
You might have a person repeatedly pressing a button every 2 weeks for five hours and love it! You might have a person doing exactly that but absolutely hate it, be pre-occupied, make mistakes and not have the slightest care for anything that goes on in the company.
It might turn out that they are in fact trying to disprove a standing cosmological theory, such as the theory of Multiple Big Bangs… Just saying!
The bottom line is that without getting to know your team you will never know the real reasons. Of course, there are the obvious cases when you know that a member of your crew is straight out lazy and probably doesn’t fit in with the company. But there might be some gems hiding on the lower deck, waiting for their talents to be discovered.
Encountering Your Own Borg
The Delta Quadrant comes with its own terrifying things – there’s Akritians, Steth, Krenim, the unforgettable Species 8472 and of course — the formidable Borg. The ever-so-powerful force that poses a threat not only to the lonely starship far from home but everyone in the Galaxy (read: company).
These are the obvious obstacles such as time, funding, search for talent, the worldwide economy. All these aspects – a force that has practically no fighting against.
And just like in space, in business life is unpredictable. Borg can come out of nowhere, assimilate members of your crew (for better-paying jobs in the current economy or due to pressure put on by long working hours during a project), even destroy your ship.
The important thing to learn is to be prepared (as much as it is possible). If a crew member is being assimilated, make it work with what you have, if your ship is damaged, make the necessary repairs, but what’s even more important…
Roaming around in space, tens of thousands of light years away from home is hard. It’s even harder alone.
It is important to find species that think just like you, have the same goals and are happy to collaborate. For Process Street, we’ve found so many friends along the way!
All the apps we have integrations with have become our allies – when times are tough we know that at least we have them – our friends that make us a stronger, more appealing product.
A great help in finding allies for us was Zapier with its endless opportunities (DOWNLOAD our Zapier ebook here – I swear, this comes natural, I’m not told to put these in everything I write). It has not only become an ally itself but has helped us find other like-minded ships to work with and fight against the evils that the Quadrant can bring at times.
Now that I’ve given you all the tips we’ve gathered along the way I wish you safe travels in exploring the unknown.