Being part of a startup was one of the best things I have ever done. I genuinely had the time of my life doing things I never thought I would do. There were difficult times; however, these difficult times helped to create the perfect environment for me to be able to improve my skills, to a point where I even surprised myself.
When I started my full-time role at CookiesHQ, I looked back at some of the reasons why I feel I was ready for the role and what basic skills I had that were vital in helping me integrate with the Cookies team. Before Cookies, I was part of a startup called Missionly, and our grand vision was to connect businesses with local students.
Most of my professional growth came from my time running the startup, which was a great and worthwhile experience. Although it was great running a startup, I don’t think it’s for everyone. However, I do believe that there are some essential skills that the startup environment can help nurture.
The primary focus here is about the improvements I made to my soft skills, instead of the hard ones. Yes, my programming skills developed as I became exposed to a broad range of programming techniques and methodologies. These were the hard skills I was actively trying to improve. However, as I was going about learning all these new things, the habits I was forming helped me to develop a broad range of soft skills I didn’t pay much attention to before.
Let’s kick off with one that took me completely by surprise. Up until I was involved in my startup, I always thought of myself as someone who can work well with others. I quickly learnt that teamwork isn’t simply about just being able to work well with others. There is so much more to it. Before Missionly, I freelanced on small projects where I was the sole developer; I was the one doing all the work and making things happen. Without even knowing it, I had developed the “Do it all myself” attitude. It became problematic as I took on more work (more than I could do myself), which lead to me being overworked and unfocused. When running my startup, I started to trust others to share the workload and focus only the parts I could handle. In my current role at CookiesHQ, I’m more conscious of the work at hand, what I’m capable of and what I can handle, so there’s no danger of me running into similar problems.
I worked well with my co-founders. Luckily, when it came to most decisions, we worked well with little or no conflict. However, ideas and sometimes directions in which to take the business created internal conflict. Having a conflict of ideas in a startup with multiple founders is to be expected even when they all share the same vision. A lot of the time, I let emotions cloud my judgement which meant that my decisions would not have been what’s best for the company. Now when making decisions, I always put the best option first, even if it’s not mine.
I improved other aspects of my life that I didn’t believe would be a problem. Showing up to places on time or managing my time well was a problem I had, and it seriously affected my ability to do my job. With significant help from my co-founders, I put in place structures and routines that helped me to manage my time better.
One example of this was waking up in the morning. I always started late and finished late, but most of the people we needed to interact with didn’t work late. To help with this, we devised a small wager: whoever arrived at the office after 8am the most times in a week would buy lunch for everyone on Friday. It was unbelievable that such a small thing like that brought out my competitive side. Before I knew it, I was waking up early and doing a few things like running or going to the gym before 8am. I’m glad that it’s a habit that’s still with me.
I find that it’s harder to improve soft skills because they are personal traits and attributes that are a part of who you are. It’s even harder if you have built bad habits around them. Learning hard skills is entirely different to learning soft ones, and more often than not, the soft skills are mostly overlooked in favour of the hard skills. What most people tend to ignore is that soft skills are essential to the success of almost all businesses.
Thanks to Missionly and my co-founders, I have found a great team here at Cookies and it’s because of the skills learnt during my startup experience, I’ve had an easy time coming on board. Recognising that there is still room for improvement, I’m ready for a whole new level of growth and the CookiesHQ team is now helping me to improve these skills further.