You don’t find a hat that fits you in a startup, you fit every hat.

Whether you call it a choice of hat, the desk you want to sit at, or the type of uniform you wear, these are all analogies for someone who is required to have different mindsets, especially at Drum. In this article for Entrepreneur Magazine, multimedia producer Deborah Mitchell outlined the five qualities that are well suited to the start-up life. This really got us thinking about the type of person who is part of a start-up (by the way, no-one works for a start-up, we are all part of the core family, so there is a far flatter hierarchy).

Deborah may have written this back in 2015, but everything she says still holds true today. You need flexibility. The commitment to put long hours into something you’re passionate about. To be ready to learn skill sets you’d never even heard of (this could be anything from understanding how to carry out complex JS animation to implementing a new CRM solution). Eventually, even those skills which would usually have little natural crossover will begin to find an overlap – they have to in a start-up – on your desk, in your email and in your Slack channel.

You might argue there is always naturally some overlap. And sure, there is a little bit. But in a traditional company, this is only periodically the case. In a start-up, it’s different. Start-ups require more of everyone, especially when the company is in its extreme infancy. For example, day one at Drum meetings saw just a very small handful of people working on our first web-meeting project. Back then, things were far less structured, there was significantly more scoping (and a lot more coffee) than we could imagine today. I tried on a whole selection of different hats, switching between them in an instant, not thinking about whether or not they actually fitted. They just had to. Since then, many more people have joined us here at Drum, and the increased expertise means we can relinquish some of our many hats!

But the end goal is always to meet the needs of the business, the product and, of course, your team. This is when it’s time to muck in and get your hands dirty. This isn’t unique to us down on the South coast at Drum. You will see it in every start-up. The skills will vary, your requirements may change on a daily basis, but your work has a direct influence on the company outcome. Let’s take the analogy of turning out for your favourite sports team: you know the position you play, it’s the one you’ve been playing since you were a child. The season develops and you get drawn into different roles. You need to help fill the gaps. These are positions you aren’t familiar with, but the team needs you. So you need to become flexible like a slinky, and fill in at defence and attack (we’ve kept the sporting analogy deliberately vague to ensure it relates to as many sports as possible!).

There can be any number of hats which need wearing on any given week. Certain hats take priority, that’s just a given. And, of course, if you don’t manage your time properly or ensure your meetings are effective, then it doesn’t matter what hat you’re wearing, it just won’t work for you. Wasted time means wasted effort. Fatigue leads to mistakes, mistakes lead to an increase in company resource requirements and this, in turn, reduces the overall company performance.

Here at Drum, there are always variations on the hats in circulation, both new and old. Sometimes we see members of staff using the same hat time and time again (it’s a little selfish if you ask me!). Of course, we all have our favourite piece of headgear. Mine is the marketing hat, it fits pretty well and I like the familiarity. But we don’t always get to wear our favourites.

These are just some of the hats I have worn in 2017

  • Marketing (all aspects)
  • Sales
  • Product development
  • Customer support
  • B2B relationships
  • Development

And here are some examples of when I had to put on a brand-new hat at Drum

The time I built the Drum website and incorporated animation using a JS slider

Now this sounds really fancy, as if I built a website from scratch and implemented all of this CSS and funky animation. Well, we did have a website (based off FTP with no swanky CMS system in place). It worked ok. But we needed to make some changes for it to better represent Drum. Without the budget to outsource the website, we got stuck in. At the time, we had a good understanding of HTML, CSS and so forth. But what we came to learn (a professional front-end developer has since joined us to ensure our site is as pretty as it is) was that JS is completely different. It isn’t something I had touched on previously, that’s for sure. Online tools helped, but they weren’t unique to our case study. So it was time to put that hat on. Make it fit and get our hands dirty. Long hours, late nights, early mornings, and the slider was in. The HTML for the website was edited and the new content placed – success!

The time an echo occurred in a Drum meeting

A more regular occurrence than you might expect. To put it simply, you can join Drum audio through two different methods – your browser and your phone. But everyone has the chance to do both. When both are activated, an echo occurs (it will happen with any system you use).

That was it, the first time we noticed this, it was a world of unknowns and uncertainties. Instantly, I needed to put on a new hat. I slid on the customer service one and made it fit. It was partly unknown territory, we hadn’t written a script to handle edge cases (at least we thought it was an edge case at the time) like these. We needed to act fast and recreate the issue. We couldn’t simply sit around chatting to try and figure it out. We had a real customer in a real situation who needed our help. So, on went the headset and we invited the user to a meeting, running through every step.

We had to learn quickly how to help our customers, instantly. And that’s the beauty of a start-up. We didn’t have to allocate anyone’s time, nor did we simply pass on the issue to a different department (there wasn’t a different department back then even if we’d wanted to do that!). We handled the issue together.

Being part of a start-up is great, it’s electric and it’s an experience you’re unlikely to get in a more established environment. I enjoy nothing more than getting to my desk and finding out which hat I need to be wearing, how tight the hat needs to sit and how long I’ll be wearing it for. It is precisely this flexibility within a rapidly growing product that makes the day so exhilarating, like Felix Baumgartner jumping from outer space (in case you missed it, here you go). Ok, maybe we don’t reach quite that level of excitement, but you know where we’re coming from. It feels like you are travelling at such a speed that things regularly become a blur. There’s that exhilarating sense of continuously moving forward, warding off the feeling of being stale or stagnant. And, for us, that makes it all worthwhile!

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