5 reasons you should work at a start-up — and tips for doing so

This guest post for The Works was written by Zachary Williamson. Zack is a 5th year Comm-Media Studies Major and has co-oped at the New England Conservatory as a Video Production Co-op and  at CustomMade as a Marketing Co-op. He recently accepted an offer from CustomMade as a Creative Associate for the Marketing Team. Zack also freelance as a photographer for the Northeastern Athletics Department.

While many people go on co-op looking to work for a large, well know brand, I encourage people to consider smaller, less established, start-ups. These kinds of companies tend to be a good fit for self-motivated people, or someone who wants to work in a fast paced environment.

For my second co-op, I was fortunate enough to be hired at CustomMade.com, a start-up that had already secured some venture capital funding, and had been a member of the marketing team during a time of incredible growth. Every co-op is a different experience, but if you want to try something less traditional, a start-up is the way to go.

1. Work at a start-up for at least one co-op.

Working to build a company is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have early in your career. Working at a smaller company means that you are making a far greater impact because you make up a significant portion of the staff. It also means that you have to be flexible, oftentimes wearing many “hats” or serving multiple roles, depending on the needs of the company. That said, you will most likely have a lot of skills to leverage and market when looking for your next co-op, considering you were both the HR and IT assistant.

2. Be ready to make mistakes, and own them when you do.

Part of working at a start-up is building something new. Depending on the field, it’s possible that a company is the first to ever attempt something at a particular scale or in that way. Being cutting edge means you’ll inevitably make mistakes, both personally and as a business; and you’ll most likely make a lot of them. Learn from and take ownership of your mistakes to avoid them in the future. But don’t let fear of making mistakes prevent you from… (see #3).

3. Take risks and force yourself to learn new skills.

One of the co-founders of CustomMade told me they would rather a project fail, than not push it far enough or try at all. Trying out new projects makes you more versatile–and versatility is one of the best skills you can bring to a start-up. Specialization is important, but don’t allow yourself to settle into a comfort zone. All co-ops should be about seeking new opportunities, but small companies in particular have more work than they have employees. Stepping up to a task, and then figuring out how to complete it, will make you that much greater of an asset to the company as a co-op, and a more appealing full time hire in the future.

4. Start-ups move quickly– very quickly.

Most start-ups have limited funds to operate, so they need to be incredibly agile and quick to try new ideas. While it’s all well and good to work out how to complete a task, many are time sensitive. Start-ups have to be quick to adjust and find a viable solution if something isn’t working. Things have to change quickly in order to conserve funds, and sometimes projects have to be abandoned in order for this to happen. This leads into my next point, that…

5. Start-ups don’t have room for egos.

Since speed is critical for a start-ups’ survival, they need to build teams of people who can quickly switch gears and go with the new flow of the company. A negative attitude won’t get you far, every challenge must be approached not with a “this won’t work attitude”, but rather a “how can I make this work, or work better” mindset.

Start-ups require a lot of work, but they can also be incredibly fun and rewarding. They force you to make incredible career developments because you have opportunities to do everything and anything. A lot of start-up culture revolves around the concept of work really hard, play really hard. If you like a new challenge every day and never want a dull moment, consider working at a start-up. It was the best decision I’ve made to kick start my career.

Zack has spent the last four years as a coxswain on NU’s Men’s Rowing Team, and is rounding out his final semester at NU as Comm-Media Studies Major, with minors in Cinema Studies & Production. He has co-oped at the New England Conservatory as a Video Production Co-op and at CustomMade as a Marketing Co-op for 16 months (he never really left). He recently accepted an offer from CustomMade as a Creative Associate for the Marketing Team. Zack also freelance as a photographer for the Northeastern Athletics Department. You can find him on the sidelines of a home game or on twitter @ZackWVisuals. (PS CustomMade is always looking for awesome people to join our team in Cambridge, MA, so feel free to reach out if you’re interested!)