FounderHabits Team Startups | 6 min read

Thank you; the misfits who make startups


I talk a lot about founders and the mindset that they go through. Over the past few weeks, since Insent is part of several high-value founder networks, I have been getting support from various groups, starting with our Techstars network. There are workshops, webinars, documents, blogs, articles, excel sheets, AMA, communities, discussions; you name it. 

Yes— this is a stressful time for founders for sure. We don't know whether we will survive  another day on the flip side of this Covid19. All the conversations we are having right now, we should have even more. 

I wanted to write about another set of people who are also going through stress — the early team members of a startup (I don’t really like the term ‘employees’). 

We are an early-stage company and we have some amazing team members we care about. Without them, there is no company. So, they are as important as founders.

If I look at my team:

  • Almost all of them took a salary cut when they joined us. They could have joined anywhere; these are smart people. But they joined us.
  • Super smart people started working with us for almost nothing (this was before our fundraise)
  • Another member had an offer from Cisco, which he declined and joined us for much less.
  • Another one called me and said — ‘ you’re the first person I’m calling when I’m starting to think about moving from my current company. I don’t want any hikes. I just want to learn’.
  • Another person here: she is shipping code and making changes at 3.40 am on her Friday nights (Saturday early mornings). 

Somebody today asked me — ‘why are they doing it?’ I have some hunches and here they are:

  • They feel safe at the company. This is critical. Nobody would do their best work if they don’t feel safe.
  • Selfishly, they want to learn as much as possible, which I particularly love.
  • They are playing the longer-term game where their learning will give them higher returns in a few years. So instead of joining a big company and taking a linear salary increase, they are making smart investments in themselves and leaning towards longer-term exponential growth.
  • Their stock options would be worth a lot of money one day and they have a lot of control of how they can contribute.
  • Most of all, they trust and believe that the company is theirs as well
So, this post is a thank you, a toast to all of you, the early startup team members who make the company what it is.

You are also misfits like the founders :) 

Know that: 

  • Something is broken inside you (like founders) that you trust a couple of eccentric people and work 15–16 hours. 
  • You are pushing the world forward because without you, there is no way a startup makes it and disruption happens.
  • Your hard work will get the return sooner or later. 
  • We have a huge appreciation for what you are doing. Many founders might not write this post, might not say it aloud or might not say it enough times. But please know that many of us have this inside us all the time. Ask them a question on a Friday evening and you’d be surprised at the passion with which they’d talk about you. 

I don’t want this post to be just a thank you note, but also a reminder to us, the founders. 

So, founders eh?

What does this mean? In these uncertain times, what do we owe to the amazing people who are helping us build our dream and vision? 

  1. Transparency: They have earned it. They trusted you enough to leave the security of a multi-million dollar company. The least we can do is to be transparent with them. 
  2. Communicate: I’d say over-communicate. Don’t wait for them to ask questions. I’m sure you can think of the questions they have in mind today. It is about salary, layoffs, or staggering revenue growth?
  3. Try to cling on: I know you can’t raise now. I know your revenue growth projections are down the drain. I know we don’t see the other side of this situation. But try to cling on a little bit. I wrote a LinkedIn post about this a few days back

You can find that post here.

4. Focus on what is beyond: Don’t dwell all the time on the recession. ‘This too shall pass’. On the other side, there is a growth curve waiting for you. How are you going to take advantage of that? Don’t you need your team to do that? 

The situation reveals who you are:

This Covid situation will decide or inform your team what kind of a leader you are. Remember, the situation isn’t making/changing you, it is revealing you. Every action you take, every communication you do, will tell your team what to expect from you for the years to come. 

Remember the Cockroach story by Sundar Pichai? 

“At a restaurant, a cockroach suddenly flew from somewhere and fell on a lady. She started screaming.
With a panic stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, with both her hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach.
The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away but …it fell on another lady in the group.
Now, it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama. The waiter rushed forward to their rescue.
In the relay of throwing, the cockroach next fell upon the waiter. The waiter stood firm, composed himself and observed the behavior of the cockroach on his shirt.
When he was confident enough, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.
Sipping my coffee and watching the amusement, the antenna of my mind picked up a few thoughts and started wondering, was the cockroach responsible for their histrionic behavior? If so, then why was the waiter not disturbed? He handled it near to perfection, without any chaos.
It is not the cockroach, but the inability of the people to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that disturbed the scene.

Covid is the cockroach. It landed on us now. Think through; make the right choices, communicate the right way and keep your misfits with you. To the world beyond this! 

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FounderHabits Team Startups

Arjun Pillai

Arjun Pillai is the Founder & CEO of Insent.ai, the human-first conversational marketing platform that connects B2B marketers to their target prospects the moment they land on their website. He believes that bots cannot automate the human connection our prospects crave on their path to purchase.

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