UncategorizedLiz Cormack

One Year at a Startup

UncategorizedLiz Cormack

As I start my next startup journey, I've been reflecting on my first adventure at The Tap Lab, an awesome mobile gaming startup now working on its second title, Bigfoot Hunter.

After my first year at my first early stage startup (I was hire number five), in my first job out of undergrad (at the age of 21), I took some notes. Here they are!

----- September, 2013 ------

It's been 365 days, and I'm not the person I once was. I've lost friends, I've made friends, I've learned more than I thought was humanly possible, and I've made a massive fool of myself on more than one occasion. Here's what I've learned, and what you should know before you do what I did:

You're strapped for time.

But you're even more strapped for money.

Balancing learning time with execution & results is a bitch -- because like all things in your first year at your first startup in your first year out of college, there's no right answer, and there'd be no one to tell you the right answer even if it existed.

It's stressful. It will be more emotionally draining that you thought was humanly possible.

But the fun times will make you forget how stressed you are more than enough to keep going -- the beers will come out, Chewie will crack a joke, and you'll realize you have it pretty good.

You will be asked to do things you don't understand. You're smart, you're resourceful - this will mostly just mean that you fully understand the ridiculous scope of that thing you do not understand.

Your boss doesn't understand that thing any better than you do.

Doing something is better than thinking about everything. 

Trial & error are terrifying, even in a 'lean startup' model built around the opportunity for failure.

Your ideas are usually not as interesting as you think they are - it will take hard work to make them interesting, because ideas are completely useless until you know how to make shit happen.

If something isn't happening, it's probably because no one has time to think about it. Wish you had monthly internal hackathons? It is now your job to start monthly internal hackathons.

I work for a videogame studio that is also a tech-driven startup, surrounded by men succeeding and failing in two male-dominated industries. In my first year, I did not felt directly diminished or devalued as a female and had multiple supportive, confidence-boosting collaborators.

But as a white female, sexism takes a much subtler nature. I've felt regularly embarrassed by my gender. I've been nervous about wearing a dress, anxious about emitting emotion, and even hesitant to openly connect to other women for fear of enforcing stereotypes.

I anticipated sexism, and I never made a single move to make myself feel comfortable. I now understand concepts like internalized misogyny, micro-aggressions and mansplaining. Without those in my toolkit, I've been unconsciously handicapped. Limited by my discomfort without understanding it.

I have a fortune from a fortune cookie in my wallet somewhere that says 'A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.' Women can't either.

So the final thing I wish I knew: No one's going to tell you you're awesome.

No one will even tell you you're alright.

Everyone around you is under pressure, and the most epic team-building exercises still won't give you one-on-one support. Your coworkers are under pressure from each other, your boss is under pressure from investors, and we're all under a lot of pressure from an industry that's changing faster than you can say 'help.'

At the end of the day, you're in the right place if you can explain to someone what you spend your time doing with pride.

I'm proud to say I survived my first year at a startup in my first year in the workforce, and now kind of know what the hell I'm doing.

Good luck!

Graduated with a B.A. in Communication Design from Emerson College. Studied Product Design in Startup Insitute Boston's inaugural class. Marketing Manager at The Tap Lab, a mobile gaming startup focused on location & augmented reality. Founder of Colab Boston, an AIGA Design for Good partner. Raised overseas, uncomfortable with familiarity, lover of live music, skiing, Bourbon Ales, black coffee and weird food. Current favorite topics: The Internet of Things, serious games, data visualization and epic burgers.