I recently left a job at a large company to join Philadelphia startup RJMetrics as a Software Developer. While I knew it would be very different here, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. Now that I’ve had a chance to get the full experience, I thought I would share some of the pleasant surprises I’ve encountered.
While a few of these are RJMetrics-specific, I think many of them would be true at most startups. As such, I would encourage everyone out there who is considering a move to a smaller company to read closely and strongly consider taking the plunge. Here are 9 unexpected perks of working at a startup:
Many of the items on this list are what I would call “perks,” but they all exist because of the compelling core values of our company. Two of the values that struck me earliest were trust and fairness. These could seem like ephemeral ideas, but can have very benefical results when put in practice at a company. I saw them in action in my first few days.
RJMetrics gives away a free iPad to all of its developer applicants who make it to the in-person interview stage. I must have glossed over this when reading the job description, because I was completely unaware of the program. Shortly after I started, however, our CEO realized that I had never been given an iPad and immediately ordered me a shiny new iPad 3. I would have never asked for it or begrudged them for not getting me one — they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. They keep their promises.
Understanding and agreeing with values like these makes it easy to feel proud of what I do and grow as a person while I do it.
Every single person at the company participates in the Employee Stock Option Plan. This aligns all of our incentives for creating long-term value and makes us proud and excited by each other’s accomplishments.
3. Amazing People
Being surrounded by people who you respect intellectually is one of the most valuable parts of a job. When you’re at a large company, it’s inevitable that some people have slipped through the cracks who just aren’t up-to-par. In some companies, those people end up being the majority. Startups, however, have smaller teams and are able to exercise a much higher level of control over who is brought on-board.
It is extremely clear that every single member of the RJMetrics team was hand-picked and rigerously vetted before being brought on-board. There isn’t a person in this office who I couldn’t learn something new from, and based on the interview process I went through, I can tell that I was hired because I will teach a few lessons myself.
4. Frequent Feedback
Every six weeks, the founders of the company sit down privately with every single member of the team to provide job performance feedback, solicit feedback on their own performance, and listen to opinions and ideas about the direction of the company.
This simple process is extremely valuable, so it’s surprising to me that most larger companies have infrequent reviews that don’t involve bi-directional feedback.
For me, this process provides a clear sense of how I’m doing and what I can expect as a member of this team. It also gives me a chance to help steer the business side of the company, which is not always a perk that a developer receives.
5. 10% Time
We are each given one day every 2 weeks to pursue a project of our choosing. This is a fairly new program at RJMetrics, but it has already generated a bunch of really useful internal tools and some great user experience improvements.
In addition to yielding great output, this program also allows everyone to exercise their creative side and be an end-to-end product manager on something that genuinely interests them.
Older, larger companies often have layers of bureaucratic scar tissue that can discourage employees and even make it seem impossible to innovate. Startups have to get stuff done to stay alive, and their teams are motivated to do so quickly.
As a result, I get to look back at “where we were” even a month ago and see real, meaningful changes that I’ve helped bring to life.
Every day at 5PM, we have a stand-up meeting where each team member briefly reports on his or her progress that day and plans for the next day. This keeps me in the loop about company-wide projects and confirms that what I’m working on really matters.
We also have flat-screens throughout the office showing metrics about customers, revenue, system usage, and other indicators of company value. Sometimes these figures raise questions that are completely unrelated to my job. Thanks to our culture of transparency, I’m not afraid to ask them.
Employees are a startup’s most valuable asset. Team members are trusted to contribute everything they’ve got. They are offered tremendous perks as a result of that trust.
Besides more common employee benefits like health insurance and stock options, RJMetrics provides a suite of benefits to promote a healthy, efficient and fun work environment. Little things like the fully stocked kitchen, freedom to design your workspace (including the awesome Geekdesk), and flexible working hours go a long way towards helping us contribute our best possible work. We even have a nap room for those days when a power nap at lunchtime will lead to a more effective afternoon.
There are no shortage of jokes in this office. We go out for company events on a regular basis. Our conference room table doubles as a ping pong table. I can’t recall a stand-up meeting where everyone hasn’t laughed at least once.
When everyone is excited about what they’re doing and proud of the output, it’s easy to have fun at work. Nowhere is this more possible than at a startup.
As I read through this list, it strikes me that these “perks” mirror our company’s core values very closely. Everything on this list is a reflection of the culture of RJMetrics.
When looking for your startup job, try to make note of the culture of the company. It’s a much bigger deal than you might think.