To join a startup or not?


I’ve been asked severally what my thoughts are on working for/with a startup. In the course of my (relatively) short professional career, I have worked more for startups than the so-called established institutions. Both types of institutions provide their merits: startups offer an environment where innovation is key for success in every aspect of the operation, partly due to limited resources. You have an opportunity for making substantial impact, and greater appreciation all round. The work environment tends to be more relaxed. The learning curve is steep. Flexibility. Stock options. The list goes on. Established institutions work better and more smoothly due to structures having been put in place. The pay tends to be better. There is more job security. Time to productivity is usually less rigid compared to a startup. There are more perks offered.

That being said, if you are considering a job in a startup, I believe the following are some pertinent questions to ask before making the leap:

  1. Start with why: According to Simon Sinek, Your Why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do.  If your reasons do not align with the opportunity, it is likely that you will not be happy. Check your motivation also against your personal values. Your core values will determine whether joining a startup, or a particular startup, would be a great move.
  2. Who are the founders and what is their story? Learning more about the founder(s) of a startup can go a long way in cluing you on the motivation behind the company. Check for past work history, successes and failures, education background, awards won, check out their web presence, follow them on social media, learn more about the history of the startup itself and any other strategy you may employ to learn more about the startup. All these will be very helpful when you need to make a decision on whether to take the leap or not.
  3. Where is the money coming from and how long can it sustain the business? What business model is in play? Are they donor-funded? If there is funding in place, what type is it? How much runway does the organization have before it runs out of money? What is the plan for that? What is the current monthly revenue?
  4. Do they offer stock options and what is their vesting schedule? Many startups are using stock options as a way to attract, retain and motivate employees. Many individuals have become millionaires through stock options in companies like Facebook, Google, and Whatsapp. The concept of stock options is that it is attractive, not just for the perceived monetary value, but also for the sense of ownership it gives an employee. Of course for this to make sense, you must believe that the company will succeed.
  5. What is my role in this startup? Due to the nature of startups being an all-hands-on-deck kind of place, your exact role can blur with time. It is very important to establish what you are expected to deliver on early enough. A startup, as I mentioned earlier, is a place that allows for great impact and great appreciation. The downside of this is that you not delivering on your mandate (whether you even know your mandate or not) is glaring.

At the end of the day, no amount of due diligence will guarantee a startup’s success or failure. I believe a startup is an incredible place to learn, grow and diversify your experiences in ways that an established company may not allow, and present you with opportunities down the line.

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My favorite productivity tools: 2017

As a fan of productivity, I try to research and experiment with tools that I come across, in the hopes of learning more and upping my game. There are those which I instantly fell in love with; others exhausted me for various reasons. Without much further ado, here are my top 3.

  1. Todoist: I am still not sure how I managed to survive without this simple, minimalist, task manager that packs quite a number of features. I mean, I was so hooked onto it after three days of experimenting that I immediately upgraded to the premium version (USD 28.99 per annum)! It is available across a number of platforms (something that is very important to me), it has great features at the basic level and its premium version is very competitive among other similar apps.
    Todoist lets you create projects, in which you have your tasks and sub-tasks. These project s can be color-coded for visual reference. The tasks and sub-tasks can have due dates, and you can assign task priorities on four levels for each of them. The basic version offers up to 80 projects with a maximum of 5 collaborators in each project.
    The premium version, in addition to the above features, offers task labels and reminders, comments and file uploads, the ability to add tasks via email, iCal synchronization, notifications and project templates. The projects available are up to 200 with up to 25 users in each.
    These are just a few of the features available on Todoist. For me, though, my favorite feature is the short-cuts available on Todoist. Once you understand them, they make life so simple. For example you can type “#” to bring up your projects, “q” to input a task, “@” tags an individual in a project, or writing catch phrases like “tomorrow” or “every 2nd Monday” which Todoist will translate as due dates and file them accordingly. So to remind my colleague to send the budgeting report next week on Wednesday I could hit the letter Q on my keyboard to bring up the Quick Add Task, type something like “#Work (to add it to the Work project or ‘folder’) @Michael to send budget report Wednesday 9.30 am”, and Michael will see the assignment in his work folder and the reminder set.
    Once you have added your tasks, you can choose to view them in different ways, like Today, Tomorrow, or By Project. You can also customize how to view by searching in the quick find bar “overdue” or “next 10 days”.
    As you check-off your tasks, you gain Karma points (premium feature). Karma points basically show you how productive you are. These are awarded based on how many tasks you complete daily and weekly (target can be adjusted in the settings). The more Karma you gain, the higher you progress through the levels.
  2. RescueTime: This is by far one of the best tools for productivity (in my humble opinion). On the website, it is described as a tool that “helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive”. RescueTime runs quietly in the background, tracking the time spent on various applications. It then gives daily and weekly dashboards on how your time was spent, ranging from very distracted to very productive. RescueTime can be customized; for example, I changed my email to distracting to minimize the amount of time I spend dealing with emails and I track my productivity between 8 am and 6 pm.
    Each week, I receive a summary of how my time was spent, with a productivity score and how many hours have been logged in total. I can also set daily goals to help improve my productivity and keep me on track. I also have downloaded the app onto my phone and use it to track my mobile usage.
    Premium features ( include the ability to turn off distracting websites for periods of time, receive daily highlights, create notifications and track offline activities. The premium version also offers more robust reports that are unlimited (the basic version offers three month reports). This, however, comes at a (pricey) tag of USD 72 per year or USD 9 per month.
  3. IFTTT: IFTTT simply means “If This, Then That” and is pronounced “Ift” (like lift, but without the l). Their slogan is “Do more with the services you love.” IFTTT has recipes, which are basic instructions that trigger an event if a certain action takes place. For example you can activate a recipe that sends certain emails to your OneNote. Or you could save your exercise data from your Fitbit to your OneNote. Or save photos that you are tagged on Facebook. There are so many recipes that you could activate and use, or your could make your own. I so far have never had the need to make any.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!