To celebrate International Women’s Day 🙋♀️ we assembled a fabulous all-female panel for our second Plum Talk, which focused on startup life.
Joining us for this fun and frank conversation were industry-leaders Elena Kontou, CEO at Sepaga, and Molly Johnson-Jones, Co-founder at Flexa.
They were also joined by three members of the Plum Team with wide-ranging startup expertise:
- Catarina Figueiredo, Mobile Chapter Lead
- Chryssa Aliferi, Android Chapter Lead
- Jess Williams, Product Lead for Growth
Our very own Head of Data (Product), Elise Nunn, was on-hand to moderate the session.
After last month’s deep dive into the up-and-coming Athenian startup scene, our panel spilled the tea on all aspects of startup life.
We’ve heard the rumours about all-nighter culture, steep learning curves and the risk that comes with joining an early stage company, but how many of these are true? Read on to discover six surprising things you might not know about startups.
(1) The guy bashing out lines of code at crazy hours at night is not the norm 🧟
Our Product Lead for Growth, Jess, went on a bit of a myth-busting spree when it comes to working in startups 🛍️
We’ve all heard the rumours about all-nighter culture, but, according to Jess “This is no more true in startups than anywhere else. At startups there is a culture of flexibility and ease, but clearly you have a choice in terms of your limits and boundaries”.
Another target on Jess’s myth-busting hit-list was the idea that startups are pretty chaotic places to work.
“There is a balance to be struck between getting work done and introducing processes as and when you need them. If you want processes, or identify where they might be necessary, there are plenty of opportunities for you to create them”.
And last, but by no means least, Jess took on the oft-cited concern that startups are not a financially viable option 💸
“There are lots of ways to check out the people you’re applying to. You can check to see if they’ve raised any money, whether the company is profitable or whether it’s backed by venture capitalists. You can even find subtle ways to ask the company if you get through to interview”.
If you ever want another startup myth busted, you should definitely give Jess a call.
(2) Sometimes you just need to go your own way 🚀
When our Android Chapter Lead, Chryssa, finished university, the most natural thing for her to do was join a large corporation.
She wrote the code that was asked of her, but she couldn’t see how it was contributing to the overall build. She wasn’t happy, and couldn’t understand how her work was having an impact.
One day, out of the blue, a friend sent her a job description for a mobile engineering role at a startup.
Dabbling with mobile apps was Chryssa’s hobby. She never thought it would turn into a fully-fledged career, but she decided to give it a go 💥
Fast-forward a few years and Chryssa is having the time of her life 💃 “Creating and giving fun directly to customers cannot be put into words. The sense of accomplishment you feel is not like anything else”.
Molly, Co-founder of Flexa, also opted for the path less travelled when she switched up her career in investment banking for a startup.
“That was the pathway I was on, but I have an auto-immune disease which meant that some days I couldn’t walk to the office”.
Molly found herself struggling with the rigid and extremely demanding grind of the corporate environment, so she decided to do something about it. Warning: prepare yourself now for a serious 😱 moment now.
“One day I asked my boss whether I could work from home for one day a week. My boss sacked me then and there. I was sent home and told never to come back”.
Although this experience left her reeling, it lit a fire in her belly to tackle the lack of transparency in the job market 🔥 After a quick convo with her partner, she took the plunge and founded Flexa.
So you see, there’s no such thing as a “straight-forward” career path. Sometimes you have to take a leap to find what you truly enjoy.
(3) You don’t need to become a doctor, lawyer or management consultant to have a long-term career 🙅
Despite what you may have heard, it is possible to have a long-term career in a startup. Many of our panellists have done it themselves.
Having begun her working life in startups in Portugal, Catarina moved to London and joined a big digital agency.
She soon realised that she wanted to have more impact on the product that was being built, and began looking at startups again 🔍
“I was very afraid of looking at startups because of the work-life balance and having a kid, but I was happy to see that the Silicon Valley way of working is no longer the case”.
She has even noticed a shift in the types of people working at startups today. “You usually think of startups as places made up of young people who don’t have a lot of responsibility outside of work. You are seeing older people with kids more and more now”.
Elise also described how she “fell into startups” and has never looked back 🌈
She saw a posting to join Deliveroo and was “swept up into a company that was under 100 people, and left when there were 1,500 employees scattered across the world”.
It’s safe to say that if our panellists can forge successful long-term careers in startups, you can too.
(4) There are more perks to working in a startup beyond wearing a t-shirt to work 👕
Admittedly we’re a little biased when it comes to the question of why you should work in a startup, but there really are so many benefits.
You get to try out lots of different roles, you get to work with true innovators, but one that’s not often recognised is that it can help you find your voice 🎤
For Catarina, this was particularly true. When she came to London, she was the youngest engineer and her male colleagues would often speak up over her.
This had the knock-on effect of putting her off speaking in other circumstances.
When she moved to a startup, she found that working in smaller groups made her feel a lot more comfortable. “I got used to speaking to these people on a daily basis, and then started widening the group so I could achieve what I wanted”.
She is now a firm believer that “Startups are good environments to get confidence speaking up”.
(5) Sometimes being a leader can sneak up on you 👀
It may be surprising to hear, but many of our panellists never saw themselves taking on leadership roles in their careers.
For Elena, she was thrown in at the deep end 🌊When she joined Sepaga, she described how “Leadership and management was kind of left to me. It was never my main goal, but when I started learning more about it, I found it really fascinating”.
Her current role includes growing the team, as well as helping others reach their full potential 🌱 “It’s something I really enjoy. If you don’t try it you can never know if you’re good at it”.
She also offered some solid advice for any would-be leaders out there. “There are three main principles to leadership: model, coach and care”.
For Molly, it was a little more complicated. She always felt that she was more of a “specialist” than a leader of people.
“There are some people that are good at motivating and managing others, and there are some people who are just good at what they do. I would say I’m definitely one of the latter”.
By recognising her strengths, Molly has found a management structure that benefits Flexa 💪
“Maurice [O’Brien, fellow co-founder of Flexa] is more of a CEO and manages all the internal workings, while I take the lead on product and vision. I didn’t really know that this division of labour in leadership could exist, but I guess it depends on the type of people you have”.
(6) Actually, so-called “soft skills” are more important than “hard skills” 💁
Our panel offered a wide range of tips for people looking to join startups, but one that stood out was how much inner capabilities are valued over technical skills.
As Catarina told us, “I look for the technical competencies of the candidate, but also assess their personality and the values they will bring to the company. Technical competencies you can learn, but inner competencies you either have them or you don’t”.
When making a hire at Sepaga, Elena is also on the lookout for “A new person that is totally different, whether that’s in terms of their background, culture, or way of thinking. This adds so much to the group and company. I want someone who can step into new things and take initiative and who has a positive growth mindset”.
Our panel also shared with us that having a long CV doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good hire 📄
Elise has often found herself “taken aback by the amount someone knows about the business” and can “forgive a few skillsets they might need to learn on the job if they clearly back the idea”.
“It’s people who care about the mission at the end of the day. It’s about people caring and working towards a vision” 🔮
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Elise.
We hope you enjoyed our second edition of Plum Talks. If you’d like to learn more about working at Plum, please check out our jobs page.
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