11 things to know about working at a rocket ship startup

In the past 6 months Gigster has grown rapidly — so much so that we were recently featured in the following Tweet:

Mattermark names Gigster the fastest growing startup going to SXSW.

There’s no shortage of people in Silicon Valley looking for their ticket on a rocket ship. If you’re considering a job at rapidly growing company then here are a few things you should keep in mind to make the most of the experience and set yourself up to create the most value.

Get Comfortable With Ambiguity

In a recent interview Paul Graham referred to early stage startups as “fast-moving chaos”. It’s an apt description. When a company grows rapidly yesterday’s to do list is obsolete after a day.

It’s like climbing a rockwall and instead of always having three anchor points to the wall you’re down to just one as you scramble forever upwards. Early stage startups are not for folks who require structure thrive. They’re for people who can navigate through a blizzard without losing their sense of direction.

As you grow you’ll create structure but likely it will be those who follow who’ll benefit from whatever you build.


The best way to keep your sanity amidst the fast moving chaos is to keep a list of the items you need to work on. Make sure the list is in priority order. It’s important that you’re absolutely ruthless about this step.

Once the list is set then take the most important item at the top of your list and focus only on that one item until it has either been done or you’ve hit a block you don’t control.

While you’re doing this item the other pieces on your list are the items you should avoid. You should tackle your list in serial. That’s because the cost of context switching is extremely high and should be avoided as much as possible. There are exceptions but they’re rare.

Bias Towards Action — Not Planning & Reporting

When you’re in the middle of chaos it can be tempting to try and hit the pause button while you come up with a plan. The truth are no pause buttons in early stage startups.

You can get snatches of escape or space here and there but by and large it’s about making decisions in the moment based on incomplete information with unclear ways to measure success. The trick is to move faster than the chaos around you.

Form a hypothesis you can test within hours (not days or weeks). Your hypotheses should follow the same rules as SMART goals. Create your best proxy for measuring success and then take action and execute. If you’re spending more than 5 minutes planning your next move then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Three Good Paths

Choosing between paths at a startup.

Often, you’re making a decision between three good paths and trying to extrapolate between which is the best long-term solution. Predicting the future is hard and each path will have trade-offs.

The key factors are expected value, speed of execution, when you expect to see results, how confident you are about your prediction, availability of resources over time (perhaps you’re expecting to make new hires or close a round soon), setup costs and maintenance costs.

Selecting the right path is a complex task and there’s usually a lot of nuance. Often Path C makes the most sense. By the time you hit the path intersections the landscape will have changed and you’ll have a new decision.

Make Time To Relax And Reflect

It’s important that you do create the space to think and reflect. Everyone does this differently but generally a long walk is a good place to start. Once a week is the right amount. This helps you stay calm and not feel rushed.

If You See A Problem, Fix It

Organization and division of labor are important to make sure a startup works efficiently. At the same time there’s usually so much happening that when you see a problem you’re often going to be one of the few people who spot it.

You’ll know if it’s something in your power to fix or if the best thing you can do is let the right people know about the issue. This is about tackling those problems where it would be easy to walk away from without anyone knowing. The sum total of everyone at a company doing this is difficult to overstate.

Learn The Art Of The Kind Nudge

Startup teams are constantly overwhelmed and reprioritizing. You have to constantly make sure your priorities are top of mind with gentle nudges and reminders.

Get folks to commit to dates and get permission to check in. When your teammates need your help to hit their targets then support them. This is essentially the Golden Rule — helping others is the best way to get them to help you.


Known in advance what you are and aren’t willing to sacrifice. Sleep and time with friends and family are the most likely sacrifices you’ll make. High growth, early stage companies will take a lot from you.

The good news is that it’ll also be the most fulfilling and rewarding work you’ll ever do. You’ll know what it feels like to realize your full potential. This is only true if you’re working in a company with a mission you believe in alongside people whose company you enjoy and talent you respect.

You Only Have One Job

You’ll likely have 3 key things you need to have finished yesterday with more work in the pipeline. Even still you should help your colleagues when they need you. The obvious reason is that you’ll soon be needing their help to hit your own personal targets.

The key reason for doing this is that regardless of your job title you actually only have one job at an early stage company. It’s the same job your colleagues have. Your job is to do whatever it takes to make the company succeed.

Early on in Gigster’s journey the company was doing an offsite in Sunnyvale when we were suddenly inundated with clients hitting the website and requesting quotes. For the next few days everyone in the company was a sales engineer.

Developers who had never spoken to customers before were getting on the phone and discussing projects with new clients. Had they had time to think about it they likely would have talked themselves out of doing it but that wasn’t an option.

During those days the team worked around the clock to respond to every chat request. Most folks slept 4 hours and then bounced out of bed to keep going.

Manage Up

Learn how to use your manager to provide air cover. Air cover is when you have a person who protects you from distracting requests from other people. That gives you the space to execute and stay on task.

This requires strong inter-personal skills and a high-trust relationship with your manager. Great managers will naturally be aware of this need but you should also be proactive to let them know how they can put you in a position to succeed.

Managers are generally more experienced and will know what you need but they aren’t mind readers. They’re also not going to be across all the detail of your work. You need to use them to remove any blockers you have.

You may need them to get you more budget or give approvals. They can also play bad cop with a misbehaving service provider you work with every day. That way you get the change you need in a way that preserves your relationship with someone you have to interact with often.

Don’t Do It (Only) For The Equity

This advice sounds counter-intuitive but if you’re only there for the equity then it probably isn’t worth it — no matter the amount. Equity or other compensation can be important but if you don’t feel a connection to either the mission or the people then you’ll be much more likely to burn out or have a miserable time.

Bonus: Savor The Moment

Don’t forget to take time to enjoy the moment every now and again. The journey is the destination and if you’re doing it right then you’ll spend at least 4-5 years of your prime working years at the company. That’s why we have a lot of big and small traditions at Gigster that force us to do this.

If you come and work with us you’ll get to find out what those are.

At Gigster we’re always looking for exceptional talent. Go to our jobs page to see our opportunities.