Why the hell would you want to work at a startup? – Reflections of a homegrown pseudophilosopher

Alexander Patouchas 1
My name is Alexander, “Allu” or Alex as they tend to call me in the Land of the Free. I have the privilege of working in Marketing Analytics at a great games company, Supercell, in the beautiful city of San Francisco on a H1­B visa. (Yes, despite my shady dark hairy looks I was able to get legal entry to this country) My professional journey in the world of mobile gaming started three years ago, however it wasn’t until Startup Life to pave my the way to not only the infamous procedure of the American Visa policies, but a unique chance of further widening my perception of the world and an individual’s place in it. In this post I’ll tell you about my story and share some of what I’ve learned along the road.
I started working for Supercell in the beginning of 2012 in the Finance and Admin team in Helsinki. After completing my CEMS exchange studies in Canada in the spring of 2013, I packed my bags again and with the help of Startup Life I headed to San Francisco to complete an internship in Player Acquisition at Supercell. Now as I’m sitting on my sofa, sipping a take­away latte I picked up from the trendy hipster joint downstairs (the one with the bearded dude wearing a red hat and lumberjack shirt) and reflecting back on the three months I spent here, I must say those were the most fascinating, inspiring and enlightening months of my life up to that point.
Alex’s Three Key Takeaways
#1 Nobody knows shit
Remember how as a kid you used to look up to to grown­ups and think how people of authority always seemed be on top of things? Like superheroes. I propose that we don’t really grow out of this misconception. Looks like too often we make the mistake of assuming other people know what they are doing and talking about. Or worse: that they have the right answers. It seems like a lion’s share of the time people around us are actually pondering about the same questions we are. Or worse: they might not even be thinking about filling those gaps of knowledge they have as they aren’t even aware of them.
I’m not saying that you should stick the finger to your colleagues. But you should never be afraid of questioning commonly accepted “truths” and simply asking “why?”. On the flip­side, it’s also very helpful to try to explain to yourself something you think you understand and see how much of it you actually understand.
Nobody should really have the right to limit what the topics are that you are allowed to participate in. What I’ve learnt at Supercell is that titles ought to be merely just ink on business cards. So if you have opinions, concerns and ideas about something in the organization but you’re told that those don’t fit your job description and hence they “shouldn’t be any of your concern”, you need to either stop the press and shake the boat – or call it quits.
#2 Values matter
There is no absence of (big) corporations who manifest lofty value statements, hang slogans on their walls and try to act all “social, ethical and cool”. Unfortunately they have essentially destroyed the true notion of corporate values. But I believe that a the new dawn of “Values Matter” is lifting its head – and the best place for this to emerge is in startups.
Values matter as they can not only guide where the company seeks to progress to, but they can constitute the whole fabric of existence where every single component of the company operates. In a context of a small group of talented individuals who are working towards a common goal, values can be super catalytic. Ideally they, and the deriving culture, act unconsciously as they guide the everyday actions of employees in external and internal settings: from partner meetings to recruiting and afternoon coffees with your manager to the bad jokes only you and one colleague of yours understand.
Honestly speaking, during my three months internship I probably would have obtained a more robust technical skill set in digital marketing had I worked at a “traditional corporation”. Imagine a work place where you are shown a predefined path with checklists, a well­structured manager and stringent weekly performance reviews. But more importantly I got to learn about all this soft fluffy stuff which has ever since been translating into personal growth.
#3 Focus
One needs the best people to make the best games, but a catholic and meticulous approach to focus is the one component that sets the talent free to achieve exceptional quality.
Our time is precious; everything has an opportunity cost, and unfortunately you can accomplish only a number of things in one unit of time – both strategic high­-level decision making as well as compiling your lists of “Getting Things Done”. We are constantly bombarded with opportunities and ideas, but how would you even know what are important and what to prioritize? Well, here #2 comes into play: When you understand what the organization stands for, what its values and goals are, answering the question becomes ever so much easier. Not easy, but easier.
To wrap things up, I’ll present to my favorite notion: intellectual curiosity. Curious minds should meticulously observe the world around them and then bravely spit out ideas, but one must remember that ideas are cheap. See, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to come up with ideas. What really matters is how actionable those ideas are how you execute them. Pointing out problems and criticizing the status quo is great but it’s not enough. Present actionable ideas and then execute on them!
Also, nobody wants naysayers (or party poopers) – criticism should always be derived from a good place, not a negative or mean­spirited one. Before shooting something down, ask why and try to understand why things are as they are. Perhaps you are missing something. I challenge you to question your own reasoning while you are questioning what you see around you. Be open­minded and sharp, voice out your analysis, come with a plan and ask for feedback.
Oh, and be ready to throw everything out the window and start over with no resentment. #failfast
Alexander Patouchas 2

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