Who Thrives at a Startup? Those With a GSD
I'm fortunate to speak regularly with talented entrepreneurs and students. Regardless of location, industry, or experience level, the most common question I get is how someone should prepare to thrive in a startup environment. Most people expect that I'll advise them to get an MBA, study finance, or learn to code. All of those skills can be great preparation, but the real key to succeeding in a startup lies in one core learnable skill: the ability to GSD, otherwise know as "get stuff (or s&%t) done."
Sounds simple right? It's harder than it looks. The world is chock full of Monday morning quarterbacks, "strategists," and people who want to advise on your business without actually getting their hands dirty. These people are lethal to your organization, particularly when you're still running an operation that is lean and mean. They compromise speed, efficiency, and progress, and favor paralysis by analysis over shipping code and experimentation.
These are the three most important characteristics of GSDs I know:
They solve for the enterprise every single time.
Regardless of whether your organization has three people or 3,000, there will always be factions competing for resources, time, or energy. The very best GSDs pay little attention to office politics and focus instead on solving for enterprise value. In other words, they boil every decision down to what is best for the business in both the short term and long term, instead of optimizing for their own success or the teams they manage. And the results speak for themselves.
They choose guts over glory.
While many people focus far more on recognition than results, GSD people do just the opposite. Startups do not offer clear stair-like trajectories for your career. Each quarter at HubSpot, we give out an award called the Jim O'Neill Award, which ironically enough is named for the man at the company who cares the absolute least about trophies and accolades. Jim is our CIO, and was one of our first employees. If a project arises that is sticky, challenging, messy, and complicated, he has been the first one to raise his hand to tackle it for six years straight. Startups reward people who take on risky, challenging projects, so don't be afraid to take on projects that seem daunting to your colleagues: they are often a springboard to success.
They demand the remarkable.
The best GSDs live what Jim Collins noted: "Good is the enemy of great." Presentations, meeting agendas, customer webinars, and systems can all be "good" and still function. But great companies like Google and Tesla never settle for "good": they demand remarkable. Anyone, in any role, can demand quality that far outpaces the norm in ease of use, functionality, or impact. The best startup employees treat every spreadsheet, every meeting, every presentation, and even the most seemingly menial task with a goal of delivering something exceptional. GSDs fight regression to the mean at every turn, and each team in your organization is better off for it.
It's imperative that the next generation of entrepreneurs be smart, analytical, digital natives, and social-media savvy. But the most universally applicable trait required for startup success is the ability to put your head down and get stuff done. If you're an intern applying for a job at your dream company, don't tell them you can revolutionize the business--show them instead.
The best companies and teams in the world spend less time talking about how awesome they are and more time showing it: apply, hire, and work accordingly.