First-hand Experiences on Startup Cliches, by Startup Lifer Jussi

12773407_10208614895712327_1451628474_oI’ve been working at BetterDoctor since last April. In case you’re not familiar with the company, it has two main businesses, doctor marketing and data API, which have been evolving a lot during my stay here. I started here as a full-stack engineer but I’ve been moving towards data-related problems as our company has shifted the focus towards data validation and API business.
There are certain cliches that are usually said about working at a startup. In this post I try to reflect some of them on my own experiences here at BetterDoctor.
Try, fail, and try again. When I look at our company history, it amazes how much the business has changed during the past few years. The original core business, finding the right doctor for you, is not our main focus anymore (thanks to Yelp and Google) but certain things, such as new legislation, have opened completely new doors for us. I’ve seen here how BetterDoctor is constantly trying to innovate in the health tech field. If things don’t work out, refocusing and trying again is often the key to success for a startup.
You learn best by doing. I started at the company with the intention of working on web development while learning data science. I started building Docker containers before moving into developing our data validation platform. Since then I’ve been working with, for example, ReactJS and Elasticsearch while improving my Ruby skills. Part of this has been through try and fail, which has, on one hand, increased the number of iterations needed to create a production ready system but, on the other hand, allowed me to learn technologies that I would not have otherwise started using without any prior experience.
It’s all about growth. When the valuation is based on growth and potential, it may seem clever to expand the business as fast as possible and hire every person has a decent skillset. Having interviewed several candidates here, I’ve seen how difficult it is to find great matches even with the great supply of talent. The thing is that also the demand is huge and the best people already have jobs they’re happy with. For me at BetterDoctor growth has meant seeing new people start every other week and hearing how hiring is constantly one of our key goals. Growth can create a lot of pressure as the sales and other targets are often set for a bigger team size with the hope of successful hiring in the near future.
Everything starts with pivoting. In the startup world there is no time to create the perfect product before launching it to the world. Great products start from small projects that test a certain hypothesis and change direction if there is no success. This is called pivoting. I’ve noticed this to be extremely important for us in showing what we’re capable of. After demoing a half-baked product, some big players in the industry have been convinced of our skillset and contracts have moved forward faster than expected. Some companies have taken this to the extreme and sold non-existent products with just a landing page. I guess that, too, can be a winning strategy for a startup.
Do first, ask later. In the early phases a startup can have a single source of knowledge. It is the one person that can answer all the technical questions and make the right calls. As the company grows bigger, this starts to inhibit the communications and slow things down. At about 30 people, I think our company is starting to experience this when there are just too many decisions to make every single day. This is a great opportunity for everyone, including the Startup Lifers, to take more responsibility in all areas. A quick call on my own can often be better than running ideas through official channels.
Embrace the change. Coming from a bigger company where everything is known months in advance and change happens on a yearly basis, seeing only one or two months ahead is scary at first. People come and go, projects start and end, and focus moves a little bit every week. The best thing to do is to embrace the change and realize how it makes everything faster. If I think my team is heading the wrong way, I can change the course anytime. I experienced a sudden change in my role when a data scientist left the company and gave me a bunch of formulas and notes to work with. Then, I had no choice but to develop them into crucial pieces of our production system.
The tech bubble is going to burst. Apart from the news telling how unicorn valuations are out of line, there’s really nothing on the ground level that would indicate any bubble bursting yet. Perhaps at some point I will see this big time if our business and the whole industry tanks overnight. But until then, it really is the golden age for Startup Lifers and other tech workers to be here. As in so many things, hedging pays off. Learning some business and design skills at a startup is not going to hurt me. On the contrary, the broad skill set I get here will be beneficial later in my career.
Jussi applied to Startup Life in the 2015 Spring Batch and started working at BetterDoctor in April 2015. 

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