The Startup Environment

7 Jun 2018


One of the most common questions I often get besides what it means to be a user experience designer is why I chose to work for a startup company as opposed to an established corporate with a very intricate hierarchy level. To the older generation, the thought of working in a startup company is anything but great. To them, startup companies do not pay as well as big corporations do. While salary is something relative fueled by stupid stereotypes, I'm here to report to you that I am someone who prefers working in a startup.

Corporates are intimidating, scary — or at least, for me they are. There’s something about entering an office tower, the heels of my footsteps making a series of clinks and clanks above the elite looking, fluorescent-lit floors. There’s the front desk or the receptionist or whatever you want to call it and I was lost. I felt lost. There were people dressed in suits and pencil skirts, blazers and dress shoes and the sound of lifts blinking made me feel uneasy. The echo of turnstiles and ID cards beeping against the machine, the suffocating air of stoic professionalism — all of them feel so high up there. And when they walked past me, it somehow felt like being surrounded by looming towers glaring down at me very intensely, probably wondering why on earth would there be a high school student standing there looking surprised and paralyzed. To say it was a hellish experience was an understatement.

With that said, I’ve always been intrigued by startups. There’s something exciting about pursuing growth and achievements with visionaries who do not limit themselves to only creating things for, well you know, money. I remember sending resume to mostly startup companies and not really on a fully established corporate. When I landed on my first job, which is still my current, I wanted to do lots and lots of things. I wanted room to experiment, people to build stepping stones and an environment where I can go to work without dreading it in the morning.

There’s a saying that working in startups require you to do multiple things at a pretty quick pace. Unfortunately, it’s not a myth. Startup companies are small, with only around ten people in the team and everyone seemingly taking double positions from time to time. For example, my supervisor is basically our project leader for everything and anything, both design and software development related. I myself have had the experience to carry a workload supposedly meant for graphic designers despite being an interactive user experience designer myself. It’s partially true that in a startup culture, you are expected to channel your inner Barry Allen.

Despite the responsibilities, the pressure, the tears and the feeling of ‘I’m not bulletproof enough for this kind of crap’, I know this is the kind of work environment where I feel belong.  There is transparency in a startup environment. Everybody talks with everybody and nobody is left behind. There is a sense of relationship that goes beyond the boundaries between seniors and juniors, employers and employees. When the team you are working with is pretty small, there is so much more focus projected onto the vision of wanting to be not just good but also great. Since things are so transparent around here, so are the successes and failures I’ve done. When I think about it from a different perspective, I take this as a lesson to be critical in my work — a way to polish myself for growth sort of thing. Is it frustrating? Of course it is. Some days I feel so tired and uninspired I just don’t want to deal with small errors in my design. I just want to get things done, pack my stuff and get home. Those days happen and I suppose I should just let them flow.

Still, I love opportunities. I love being given a room to breathe, to experiment. It’s like fooling around but with a result, you know? In a startup environment, there is so much room for experimentation and I appreciate that. I don’t know every single established corporate in the world but most of them don’t really give you that justification. For someone who hates being limited, this is definitely one of my favourite aspects from the startup culture, aside from the freedom of a flexible working time and really casual dress code — I wear cartoon shirts, an oversized hoodie and pants, thank you very much. Not to mention, such transparency measures and counts your successes and failures which means every effort is and will be counted and acknowledged.

I think, in my mind, I’ve always been someone who wants to be part of something imperfect. I don’t want anything that’s already perfect. It’s so....lifeless, like how I find office workers who work in a cubicle from 9 to 5 lifeless. No offense, really. Perhaps a part of me, the part I never really discovered until now, is just an inventor wannabe. Startup companies are like seeds; they can either grow as a tall, beautiful plant or wither and die. Honestly, this is what I find intriguing. Soon, I find it in myself: the willingness to see and make something flourish. I realized that even though I do have my own standards of how much I want to earn (a standard I think everybody, even beginners, should have and is not wrong to have), the passion to create will always be something I forever prioritize. Of course, I'm aware that in the end, it all comes back to how the company behaves. Nevertheless, if I could rewind my time and experienced those stressful days of trying to land on my first job again, I think I would still made the same decision.

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