Working for a start-up is different from working for an established company: What matters--or is valued--in a corporate environment can be a productivity and culture killer in a small business.
That's why great start-up employees:
1. Don't look to the checkbook.
Capital-intensive ventures can require significant sums, but most businesses require little funding to get started. In fact, there's often an inverse relationship between the level of funding and the long-term success of a start-up. (It's worth noting that the majority of the companies on the Inc. 5000 list were bootstrapped.)
Great start-up employees don't care about office décor, or fully staffed support functions, or supply closets that somehow (magic!) are always restocked. Their instinct is to work through problems instead of throwing money at them.
2. Prefer acting to thinking.
A detailed plan is great, but stuff happens, and most entrepreneurs don't make it past the first three action items before adapting to reality. (Ask any successful entrepreneur if his or her company in any way resembles their original business plan--I guarantee it doesn't.)
Great start-up employees spend a little time planning and a lot more time doing. If they're unsure, they do something... then react appropriately. They know it's easy to ponder and weigh and evaluate and assess a company out of business.
3. Only care about what the customer sees.
Some people leave their corporate position for a job at a start-up with the assumption the amenities should be equal. Of course that's not how it works, since bootstrapped companies only spend money where it touches the customer. (If you run a law firm, your associates' offices reflect on your firm; if you run a restaurant, the customers shouldn't even know an office exists.)
Great start-up employees instinctively understand you will only spend money when it makes a real difference to your customers. They know (and if they don't, it's your job to teach them) that success is not defined by amenities or fancy offices: Success is defined solely by revenue, by profits, and where employees are concerned, opportunities to grow with your business.
4. Hunt what they can kill.
Almost every entrepreneur dreams of finding that one enabling customer--and so do start-up salespeople.
Unfortunately, enabling customers are tough to land. Great start-up employees spend a little time trying to land that big fish and a lot of time casting their lines where they have a reasonable chance of landing lots of smaller fish.
And they know that later they can leverage their customer base--and what they've learned about your customers and your competition--to catch ever-larger fish.
5. Understand that a living is earned, not given.
As an entrepreneur, no matter how hard you work, no one has to buy what you sell. "Fair" applies to how you deal with customers, suppliers, vendors, etc. Fairness in no way applies to whether you deserve success or failure.
The same is true for employees: Pay is based on performance, not title or tenure or, "I have a family to feed." Great start-up employees work to earn their pay, not keep their job.
As you know, there's a big difference.
6. Don't drift into tasks that don't generate revenue.
Early on, every employee should generate some amount of revenue. (No start-up can afford employees that generate no revenue.)
Yet some will start creating esoteric spreadsheets because they like creating spreadsheets. Some will create detailed reports because they like creating comprehensive reports. Some will spend time "networking" on social media because, well, they like social media.
Great start-up employees focus on activities that, as directly as possible, generate revenue--or if they can't generate revenue, on keeping costs as low as possible. That means in her "spare" time your accountant works to reduce accounts receivable, or negotiate a better maintenance contract with a supplier, or streamline reporting systems so employees can focus more on work and less on administrative tasks.
Great start-up employees know that money is the lifeblood of your business--so if a task doesn't pay, they put it away.