Why Leading a Startup is Like Being in High School

BY THE TALENTDASH TEAM | August 23, 2016

We don’t want to give you an anxiety attack by taking you back to your high school days, but as a startup leader there are a lot of tips you can take from the scenes of your best (or worst) days.

The startup community is like a high school. You’ve got a range of people with varying experiences – freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and then teachers and management – and a variety of people who all bring something unique to the table (we’re talking geeks, cheerleaders, goth kids and jocks.)

Like high school, startups let you “get away with” wearing ripped jeans and sneakers, skipping classes (cough – flexible working – cough) and emphasising your individuality to play to your strengths.

Although it might seem like an eternity ago (and you thought you’d left it all behind) your glory days hold some key information, tips and advice for running a successful startup.

So, let’s take a walk down that hypothetical hallway for some takeaways you can apply in your business today.

No matter what, you’re always a freshman

Whether you’re founding your first startup or your third, you’re always the new kid. Each new business comes with its own set of challenges and objectives, and you need to see each obstacle with fresh eyes. Sure, you will have learnt plenty if this isn’t your first pep rally, but don’t let previous situations cloud your judgement. Be open to learning new things and allow people to teach you – even if you’re their boss. You’re never too old to learn.

Surround yourself with the right people – not cliques

While jocks might hang out in a pack, and all the geeks congregate together, this clique mentality can be hugely detrimental to a small business. You should be aiming to hire for attitude as well as aptitude in your startup, and this often means you’ll recruit an interesting cross-section of talent. Don’t ever underestimate the importance diversity plays in the overall success of your company – it breeds creativity and innovation, and helps to avoid groupthink and conformity.

Keep making connections

When you were a freshman, most of your friends were probably other freshman. Maybe you befriended a rogue sophomore or someone else older than you, but typically kids run in circles of their peers. In a startup, it’s important to foster relationships with those who are one or two steps ahead of you. Find yourself a mentor and network with people who have already ‘graduated’. People who understand what you’re going through as a business leader will be able to provide you with some incredible advice (not to mention connect you to some very useful people.)

Ask ‘stupid’ questions

Your teachers probably told you “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”, and they’re right! Even as the leader of a startup, you need to feel comfortable asking questions and addressing things you don’t understand. In such a fast-paced environment, your employees are constantly learning new skills, and this should also extend to you. If you’ve hired right, your staff will be some of the most knowledgeable bunch around, so take the opportunity to pick their brains and look at their homework. Except it’s not cheating – it’s growing.

Don’t do things to fit in because it’s ‘cool’

Following the crowd might have been the easy path to popularity at high school, but in an agile environment like a startup, sticking to the status quo is anything but. The world’s best startups earned their place by being bold, courageous and innovative in bringing something unique and unprecendented to their audience. Following the leader will get you nowhere – you need to be the leader, and that means taking calculated risks and challenging the norm. It might have held you back in high school, but now don’t be afraid to let that freak flag fly!

Need some help to recruit your posse? Get in touch with us at admin@talentdash.com to discuss your hiring needs.

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