Being Employee #1 and Learning to Fear Less

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A recent graduate shares her experiences as employee #1 at a female-founded startup. By Briana Tischner (Brand Relations Manager, BeautyArmy)

When I applied for my first internship fresh out of Berkeley, I had no idea that I would be swept into the dynamic and unpredictable world of San Francisco startups. At the time, I knew little about the tech/startup world and had no idea what I was getting into!

Lunch as Compensation

The majority of my final year of college was spent commuting between San Francisco and Berkeley; I was interning and getting paid in sushi and coffee and I’ll admit that I was slightly jealous of friends making good money interning at corporate companies.

While completing my degree, BeautyArmy was in its infancy, which made my decisions about my future nerve wracking. Eventually I needed a job that paid me more than just food, but I couldn’t imagine leaving BeautyArmy. I had watched it grow from an idea into an actual company and felt like it was my baby. I knew the founders would have brought me on full-time if they could have, but there was no word on when that would be, so it was back to the job boards again.

Fortunately, the CEO and co-founder, Lindsey Guest was completely understanding, and supportive of my choices. Finally, after a few months, I had two great offers from some big name companies and Lindsey congratulated me...with a job offer. I spent a few minutes mulling things over; maybe it was time to try a new environment? Eventually, I made the choice to remain at BeautyArmy and started on an unforgettable journey.

Building the Perfect Team is an Exercise in Patience and Loyalty

During those critical early days, our core team was forming and we didn’t all come together at once. The founders were very careful with the early hires (luckily I made the cut!) and I watched as permanent team members joined us, one at a time, until we had the perfect cohesive team.

I learned that resumes and credentials only hold so much weight before personality, drive, and consistent rock-star execution became the true indicating factors of surviving as an early employee. The founders like a solid background but put much more weight on aptitude and passion. They also know that the startup lifestyle isn’t for everyone so they look for candidates who specifically want to work at a startup. Everyone sees the glamorous offices and hears about the perks of some startups that have ‘made it,’ and they get some false image of the founders wearing hoodies, playing beer pong, napping in hammocks and rolling in cash.

Of course, in the rare cases this actually happens, but more often than not it looks more like caring enough to drop everything at anytime to do whatever is required. This may mean getting your hands dirty (literally) by painting or cleaning, sacrificing time with your friends and family or pretending you're the receptionist when a big client visits the office.

We have late hours, weekend emergencies, and moments where we have to drop everything and go back to the drawing board. It takes a certain type of person to make it through the early days of a startup – someone who isn’t discouraged easily by course changes and reprioritization. Things aren’t always particularly easy, but we all encourage each other to reach our goals, and the common love of our customers drives us.

We’re Only Limited by Our Own Imaginations

“What should I do?” is often met with “What do you think you should do?”– a situation that at first took some getting used to, but now makes me feel almost spoiled by the amount of control I have over the direction in which I choose to go. Having a boss, in the traditional sense, has never been part of my job. Rather, we work collaboratively, brainstorming, and providing honest feedback. Even as the youngest team member, I’ve never been treated as the newbie.

There’s an unspoken bond within our small team, something hard to come by, and something that will be impossible to duplicate. We’ve become our own family, which is something I never expected to find in a workplace, let alone my first career.

We all feel a sense of ownership, knowing every little thing we do will make an impact. There is no busy work or downtime here; everything has a purpose, and everything we do is completely transparent for the whole company to see. Luckily, I’ve never seen much micromanaging go on in the office. I've observed that respect and encouragement works wonders for propelling productivity, versus nagging and over-managing.

Fearing Less

The startup world has brought out the ‘Yes-Woman’ in me; I never turn down an opportunity to meet someone new, start a new project, or tag along on new adventures. This has led me to find myself in all kinds of new situations – one minute I’m answering emails, and the next I’m on the San Francisco waterfront sharing oysters with our advisors; or downtown in a swanky bar with the royalty of the tech world (feeling like a complete poser) or finding myself behind the wheel of a Go Kart, surrounded by executives from VC firms and hot tech companies.

Everyday is a new adventure to be had, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Fearlessness has become a theme in my life now – there really is no time like the present, and I’m determined to take advantage of every opportunity while I can. The more I’m exposed to this world, the more I’m inspired to leave my own mark.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning, I had no idea what it would take to make a startup succeed. I didn’t know what qualities indicate that someone will thrive under the unique pressures we face. I just knew I liked doing what I was doing, and I had a feeling I stumbled across a rare opportunity that could lead me on a totally new path. Here I am, three years in and enjoying every unpredictable minute. I went from fearful to fearless because I took a chance and worked hard and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Did your internship result in a job offer?

5A8A4305_webAbout the writer: Briana graduated from Berkeley in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Integrated Biology. Employee number #1 at BeautyArmy, she was promoted twice from Intern to Customer Service Specialist to her current role as Brand Relations Manager.