A friend and I started Modify Watches when I was 28. I had just finished my MBA, and had already spent four years with Deloitte Consulting, a management consulting firm. I started in the company's New York office after finishing my undergraduate studies and moved to London with the firm to specialize in their operations and finance practice. So, the new startup should have been easy, right? I mean, I had an incredible number of "skills" to go with my graduate degree and worldly experience.
What I have found over the past few years is that we have a huge misconception of what qualifies as a useful "skill" for a startup. You may not have deep finance expertise, be able to design a jet engine or be an incredible web developer. But if you are reading this article — and showing your curiosity and desire to learn — I bet you have the necessary skills to work in a startup environment (or found your own startup).
What skills are necessary to work in a small business? I think that there are three: hustle, follow-through and curiosity.
In the past year, I estimate that 5 percent of my time has been dedicated to strategy, 5 percent has been spent on sales calls and 90 percent has been focused on everything else: packing boxes for 14,000 watches that we have sold, exchanging over 200 emails per day with customers, working with my team on redesigning our watch not once but twice, sending watches to nonprofits to help with fundraising, and remembering to eat while working. With rare exceptions, every day at a startup requires "fighting fires" — handling issues that have immediate deadlines. To us, "hustle" does not just mean working really hard (though that is critical). "Hustling" means being industrious and figuring out clever ways to solve problems so that we make our customers happy and improve how we work. Do you like solving problems in a busy environment? Try working in a startup.
I think of "follow-through" as the partner to hustle. It is very easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind and focus only on short-term issues. Everyone feels a sense of accomplishment when they tick off boxes on a to-do list. These are important, but follow-through means that no matter how busy or stressful work may get, you never lose sight of the big projects under your control, and the company goals. Do you like diversity in your work and love completing big projects? Startups!
You are reading an article by a history major. I love reading, love understanding what events brought us here, love traveling the world. Something new happens at a startup every single day. Sometimes these new experiences are great – Google wants to buy watches! And, sometimes the experiences are terrible – we messed up a customer order and need to fix it immediately. Do you love learning? Love meeting new people? Love taking on tasks that range from calling customers to designing watches? Try. A. Startup.
The good news is not only that can these skills can be learned – practice does make perfect – but also that you can still deliver good results while you are improving.
- First, set yourself up for success by choosing a company and team you care about. That way you will show up to work energized each day; happiness can make even the most mundane tasks exciting.
- Second, think of your customers as family and friends. It sounds silly, but when you believe that folks you care about rely on your product or service, you will work harder to make sure they are treated well.
- Third, make lists. Finish each day by creating a list of the five small tasks that you need to accomplish the next day. Then do them the next day. Each weekend, write out the one or two big projects that you want to focus on for the next week. Both of these steps will help with the follow-through, which is one part organization and one part effort.
- Fourth, while I cannot tell you to “be more curious,” I can let you know that great startups have a forgiving environment. Learning from mistakes is the key to success. Knowing that you will make mistakes will take away some of the stress of trying new things, which will allow your natural curiosity to shine!
- Fifth and finally, ask your teammates to hold you accountable for even the smallest things. You will start to deliver everything that is expected and you will also improve team communication, which is always critical.
A startup is scary because every day is uncertain. But it is also a great place to learn, to meet new people and to try new things. Whether you are starting a venture or joining a startup team, working hard, completing your tasks and being open to new ideas will set you on a path to success.
Aaron Schwartz is Founder and CEO at Modify Industries, Inc., which designs interchangeable custom watches known as Modify Watches. He loves working on startup ideas and has spent innumerable (happy) hours advising friends and former students on how to grow their ideas.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.