Startups: The land of milk, honey, and Kool-Aid

August 24, 2016

As Wikipedia defines a Startup Company: (startup or start-up) is an entrepreneurial venture typically describing newly emerged, fast-growing business. The definition of a startup usually refers to a company, a partnership or an organization designed to rapidly develop scalable business model. Often, startup companies deploy advanced technologies, such as Internet, communication, robotics, etc. These companies are generally involved in the design and implementation of the innovative processes of the development, validation and research for target markets.

What people think it’s like working for a startup: A cool, new place to work with no dress code. A place where there are slides and foosball in the break room. A place where people feel free to brainstorm and envision new ideas of making the world a better, more efficient place. A place full of milk and honey. 

What it’s actually like working for a startup: Hard. Challenging. Frustrating. Invigorating. Passionate. Life-Changing. Blood. Sweat. Tears. The best thing you’ve ever done.

With a mere three years under my belt at my (first) startup, I in no way mean to claim expert status. I do, however, feel we’ve all learned some valuable life lessons along the way that can be applied to any work environment. 

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A Look Back…

As SchoolStatus enters our fourth school year of operations, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned A LOT. We’ve learned a lot about education, about running a business, and overall, about what drives human nature. We set out to change education, forever. And that goal has not wavered.

As I reflect on that first year of operation, I’m flooded with memories. I remember moving into our new office and thinking it was more space than we’d ever need (we’ve quadrupled our office space since). I remember thinking we had a handful (and I mean a handful…four people) of really intelligent people, and I knew we could do whatever we set our minds to. I remember not knowing yet what I didn’t know, and frankly, I’m so glad I didn’t know.

We set out in Year 1 with over 40 school districts to onboard and, let me remind you, four employees. Armed with new shirts from Lands’ End with our SchoolStatus logo, a wing, and a prayer, we hit the streets with a common goal in mind: create amazing software for education that truly makes a difference in the lives of our users. I’m proud to say, we have stuck by that mantra.

We learned a lot that first year and continue to learn every day how to improve our product and our organization. Some of those lessons, frankly, we got lucky and some we learned the hard way. A certain amount of success is timing and luck, but most of it relies on people…. human beings making decisions. Decisions that taught us some valuable lessons that can be applied across multiple platforms.    

Lesson 1: Surround yourself with people who share your work ethic and common vision (I call this, ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’, which I am quite aware has really negative connotations as we don’t actually require people to drink poisonous Kool-Aid, but you get the point.)

Work ethic, work ethic, work ethic. (Wow, say that 3 times fast). If I could instill anything in the minds of future generations, it’s the notion that work ethic above all else, has the ability to differentiate success from failure. It’s not intellect; it’s not talent; it’s sheer hard work toward a common vision. We’ve been incredibly lucky to find literally the hardest working people in show business. But just as important, we’ve found people who ‘get it’. They drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. They understand the implications that our products and our company can truly change education, forever. We say it, but we also believe it. Without our people and their outstanding work ethic and drive towards a common vision, our organization would not be what it is today.

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 Lesson 2:  Listen to your customers.

From day 1, our customers have been letting us know how we can improve our products because we’ve built a culture to encourage input. Have we been able to implement every request? Not a chance. Have we implemented a lot of requests? Heck yes! We’ve heard requests that we think are impossible, and later discover, no we can actually do that. We’ve heard requests that we look at each other and think, man that’s a great idea. I can’t believe we never thought about it before. And we’ve had requests that we think, yeahhhhhhh I’d love to be able to do that, but it’s going to be a while (if ever). No matter the request, we look at every, single one of them in an effort to continuously improve our user experience. We truly owe our customers for the passionate input they provide to us.

 Lesson 3:  Never settle for the staus quo.

There are those people out there. You know, the ones who are content to ‘get by’ with as little friction as possible. We aren’t those people. We push limits. We ask questions. We get told no, regroup, and ask again in a different way. We continually move forward, always striving to be better than we were yesterday. Because that’s who we are and really, it’s more fun that way. We get tired and lose motivation. We get frustrated and feel helpless. There are days that we look around at each other and think how much easier it would be to simply not care, to not go above and beyond the call of duty. Then that lasts about 4 seconds and we’re back to the grind. We fall off the horse…often. But we laugh at a status quo, get back on the horse and continue our drive forward. As my good friend Dory says, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

It has gotten easier over the years. We often joke about how far we’ve come in such little time. Instead of putting it on cruise control sitting in that comfortable place, no, we’re introducing a completely new product to our mix and to the marketplace. As we embark on this renewed challenge, we need to remind ourselves where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and to just keep swimming. And maybe one day we’ll get that foosball table.
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Want to know more about what it is we work on so passionately? Click here to explore how SchoolStatus makes easy work of data analytics, 1:1 communication, and teacher evaluations. 

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