How joining an early stage start-up can be better than you expected

    A year ago if you would have asked me to join a start-up with no employees apart from the 3 co-founders, I would not even bat an eye. In my belief, a company which was up against the already cut-throat competition in the app-based ecosystem wasn’t really an ideal place to work.

    Adding to this, I had an offer from a digital marketing agency as opposed to a customer service executive at SSG. It would have well-aligned with my plan to pursue a career in advertising. But, just within 2 weeks of you asking that question, all my beliefs were put down the drain for me to take a leap of faith.

    This is a story of why joining an early-stage startup like StepSetGo has proved to be one of the best decisions I made. This article is also intended to help those conflicted about making a decision on joining an early-stage start-up and why I think you should really consider approaching an early-stage start-up, all guns blazing.

    My Journey: How an email changed my life

    It started with one of my best friends showing me an app called StepSetGo, a fitness tracking app that rewards you to get fitter. She told me how by just walking, she could be winning an iPhone, absolutely free. Like any other sane person, I dismissed her completely and also might have ridiculed her for being naive. The concept seemed too good to be true. Nevertheless, she really forced me to download the app, using her referral code, so that she earns 5 SSG Coins in the app. Coins that are the in-app currency that would later be used to redeem the said iPhone. It didn’t seem like a big deal to just download the app and maybe delete it once she got her 5 SSG Coins.

    Installing and signing up with StepSetGo was really the first point where I found myself guilty of passing judgments without knowing something completely.

    As soon as I started using the app, I was greeted with the fluid and refreshing UI, well-thought-out design, and user experience. In just a couple of days, this app made me do something that even my mother was never able to do — got me walking! And just like that, I was determined to know more about StepSetGo and understand the legitimacy of the concept. This compelled me to go to the Play Store to find a way to connect and also discuss a bug I discovered. I wrote an email and to my surprise, I got a reply within just a few hours.

    The reply was really thoughtful as it explained and assured me about the legitimacy of the company. It also let me know that the bug that I had discovered was already reported and they were in the process of fixing it. At this point, the company was checking all the right boxes for me. When I reached the signature, it read ‘Misaal Turakhia, Co-founder — StepSetGo’

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    The first email

    I was just fascinated by the love and effort put into the product by the StepSetGo team because the emails were directly replied to by the co-founder himself (well actually, this was because there were no other employees in the company, but we will get to that later). Just like that, this email started a thread of me putting out suggestions for the app almost every other day and Misaal showing great interest and replying to them swiftly.

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    About 2 weeks in, I just said in one of the emails, that I might have more such suggestions, but it would actually make more sense to work for his company officially rather than giving away my inputs casually. He was quick to add Shivjeet Ghatge, CEO & co-founder of StepSetGo, to take things forward. Everything beyond this point happened way sooner than I anticipated. I was asked to walk in for an interview the very next day, which I did.

    Unfortunately, at that point in time they were really looking for someone to look into customer support and user communications since naturally, Misaal would not be able to reply to user emails, forever! What happened to that other offer that I had from a digital marketing agency? Let’s just say I believed in StepSetGo’s story and where it could be in the future, which made me realize how I could be so much more working here rather than in a 9 to 5 job. I chose to take up the role of community manager temporarily until more avenues open up in the company.

    1 year down the line, today StepSetGo has more than 6 million downloads organically, has achieved the highest ranks on the App Store and the Play Store, is crushing it in terms of DAU and MAU when compared to its competition, has been profitable and self-sustaining, and is open for investments.

    Over this period of time, I have identified what makes an early-stage start-up a good opportunity to explore your career in, as well as how it becomes a springboard for your personal and professional growth.

    Of course, these come from my personal experience at StepSetGo and there is no one-size-fits-all, as every business is unique in its own ways.

    The WHYs

    1. To be a part of something big, while it is still small

    When you become a part of something early, it is needless to say that you literally watch that something grow along with you. Take for example the veteran creators of YouTube, who adopted and ventured into the platform very early on and laid the foundation for what YouTube is today.

    With the platform itself, they also grew more than they imagined, because they were part of the journey since the beginning. I have come to realize that my being part of StepSetGo has given me the same feeling, albeit on a very small scale, of course. The steps (no pun intended) that you take and the small decisions that you make, even subconsciously, may have a ripple effect in the organization, and may also influence your customers.

    Just a week ago I was talking to one of our iPhone redeemers, who has walked dedicatedly for a year, to be rewarded for his fitness. The experiences he shared were overwhelming for me, to say the least. He had been through a lot in the past year while also facing depression at one point in time. He said that because of StepSetGo, he was able to cope up, stay distracted, and motivated.

    Part of my job a while ago was to make offers in the StepSetGo Bazaar (our in-app marketplace where we feature exclusive offers and free products for our users to redeem, using the SSG Coins). The offers need content to be written which explains the product and the offer in brief detail.

    For the free iPhone offer, I had written a small statement which went like, “If you redeem this product, you will be a StepSetGo Legend”. He told me that it was this very sentence that kept him going for a year because all he wanted to do was to indeed become a “StepSetGo Legend”. The feeling of your small actions literally influencing the lives of your users is what makes me believe that I am part of something big, however small it was when I had joined it.

    2. To learn more than you ever could

    When you work for an early-stage startup, you come to realize that your job role in the company plays second fiddle to the bigger picture of your personal and professional growth. I started off in the company as a Community Manager, responsible for customer support and establishing a tone of voice in user communications. In early-stage companies, you can be fortunate enough to transition into different job roles as the company keeps growing bigger.

    I was slowly transitioned into managing the operations of Bazaar (listing offers, writing in-app content for the offers, and servicing clients) as well as got to try my hands on B2B sales. While I kept doing a bit of copywriting in terms of in-app content and writing app notifications, these other roles were still not something that I wished to pursue.

    But in the end, I am more than grateful for getting to learn everything first hand. It was very recently that I was finally able to delve into the creative aspects of marketing and am now also getting to learn a bit of performance marketing. I really don’t suppose this would have been possible working in a corporate environment where you are limited to and solely responsible for your job profile.

    I am sure I can go on about all of my colleagues who have always risen to the occasion, just to learn more than they could otherwise.

    3. To make something culturally and productively, yours

    We have used and thrown around words like “Start-up Culture” or “Open Start-up”, but to help create that culture and having a say in things that could affect other employees in the organization, is a feeling best experienced. Of course, for StepSetGo, with the average age of the employees being 26 years, the company had the liberty to adopt a very young and “hip” culture.

    Yes, we do wear shorts to work, yes, we do play corny Bollywood music in the office (I think I was guilty of this one). One of the days someone suggested playing Mafia at the end of the day and soon enough, Mafia nights became a ritual for every working Saturday. Jay, our HR (along with the Logistics Manager, Admin, office doctor, and food provider) always comes up with activities that would help work seem less stressful and more fun. We have our very own annual office Olympics called “StepSetGolympics” (That is a good name, ok? Stop judging).

    All decisions, be it suggesting new breathtaking features or simply selecting a place for the next party are based on an organization-wide discussion, with every single team member involved. This experience and culture may not just affect the employees but also trickle down to the end-users.

    Just for example, when I was handling support and feedback emails, there were occasions when we faced downtimes due to server issues. Even a downtime of let’s say 2 hours can put the entire user base in a frenzy of reaching out to customer support via emails. The general emotion of users would be disappointment or resentment due to the inconvenience caused to them.

    One of these days, I decided to make a custom meme to lighten things up while also ensuring users that the issue will be resolved at the earliest. We received giggles and appreciation in replies to those emails and just like that, memes became a part of our user communication through emails, whenever the going got tough. To know that there is a tiny part of you in the majority of things adopted in the organization, helps you keep going.

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    The HOWs

    I guess this is where the cliches start. They are all true, nonetheless. I promise.

    1. No idea is big or small

    You will realize this more when you join a company in its very early stages.

    The kind of influence you can bring about in the development and functioning of the organization or the product is just incomparable to a company that is more established and matured over time.

    If you think your idea might be stupid or inconsequential, just stop thinking and blurt it out. It might just spark a conversation and the seemingly stupid idea may evolve into a meaningful feature or element influencing your company’s product or service.

    After 4 days of joining StepSetGo, I had a list of ideas that could be implemented in the product. I am just glad that many of them are now a feature inside the StepSetGo app while the remaining ones can still spark conversations in the future.

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    A stupid idea of having an unofficial catch-phrase “Chal Na Bro” (We are a pedometer-based step-tracking app. Get the pun?) turned into having slogans on our official merchandise and a ‘nudge for friends’ feature in the app with a dedicated button saying “Chal Na Bro”. So, no idea is too big or small, indeed.

    2. Back your instincts (man, I am really not helping with these titles, am I?)

    What I mean by this is that you need to always seize the opportunities to be vocal about your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions for the operations of the company and its overall growth. Again, this is something that you have more liberty to do in the early stage of a company. What you say or feel may affect how things could function in the future for the organization.

    I have personally made it a point to be actively involved and be vocal in any discussion that requires any form of input from the employees. If anything has ever bothered me, I have humbly put it across to our HR or at least one of the co-founders, as it could be something that others may feel as well, moving ahead.

    Although, whatever your suggestions or opinions may be, always make sure that they are adding to the growth in the right direction for the company.

    Being responsible for your attitude towards the betterment of the company always sets a good example for the whole organization. Something that I have witnessed, admired and learned from our 3 co-founders and my fellow colleagues.

    3. The final output should always be greater than the hours put in

    For a long time, be comfortable with not caring about the number of hours you put in at work and stay focused on delivering output in whatever task you take up. I think this one is a staple for all start-ups, whether big or small. When you choose to work in a young company, you choose to be fine with uncertainties.

    For an app-based tech start-up service like StepSetGo, things could and have gone as not planned in the past. Maybe the servers that handle step-count service have gone down at 2:00 AM and we are getting pinged by our users on why their steps are not getting registered (yes, even we were surprised to know that our users have been walking at 2:00 AM), or maybe you need to build a new app feature as soon as possible because the marketing or the sales team believes it’s vital for the immediate growth. In any such scenarios, the whole team, may it be tech, support, or design, need to burn that midnight oil and deliver results and solutions.

    “You have to do it all” is never far away from reality. If I could share a funny anecdote, very early on when the StepSetGo team was only 6 people including 3 co-founders, one of the days I was working late and was going to be the last one leaving the office. As I was leaving I realized someone had kept the AC near the door, switched on and it had started leaking water, essentially flooding the office entrance. I knew what was to be done. Pick up the bucket and start mopping the floor! But it doesn’t end there, the funny part is that I had called over a date, who I was seeing for the first time, to come and pick me up, so we could go out and hang. Now, this girl comes to the office and downright watches me mop the floor for a whole 20 awkward minutes. Needless to say, she never met me after that!

    Jokes apart, if you join a start-up, you really need to be responsible and accountable for your work and actions, as literally, the whole company depends on you!

    TL;DR: If you are in a fix for deciding upon whether or not to join and work for a start-up company, I would just suggest you follow your passion, seize the opportunity while choosing to be more responsible and dependable. It might turn out to be better than you expected.

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