In the midst of tall skyscrapers that house glossy publishing companies like Hearst, Time Inc., and Conde Nast, you’ll find less impressive buildings (and even walk-ups) filled with smaller companies that are doing big things: startups. Mostly known for laid-back work environments, great benefits (hello, unlimited vacation!), and innovative content, a startup holds many opportunities for budding editors in the business. But, like every job, startup culture isn’t for everyone. “You absolutely have to be a self-starter who can answer your own questions,” says Justine Schwartz, editorial director at SHEfinds.com. So what are you signing up for? We spoke to a few editors to help you figure out if working at a startup is right for you.
There’s Barely Any Structure
Since startups are newer companies, you’ll most likely find that their work environment is far from traditional. At Greatist.com, employees have flexible hours, can work remotely, and are encouraged to hit the gym midday, according to Locke Hughes, a former senior editor. Sounds great, right? However, some people can get carried away with the flexible workflow. Lack of structure means you have to be able to take more initiative to get your work done without your bosses hounding you. For those who can do that, “It’s the best way to thrive,” says Hughes.
You also may find yourself sitting next to the CEO of your company. An open office makes for better collaboration among the team and blurs the lines of hierarchy. “I sat right behind my boss and she would often swivel her chair around and ask me the status of something I was working on,” says Schwartz. “I had to be on my toes and have an answer ready! There’s a lot of accountability and no cubicles or bureaucracy for people to hide behind.” Of course, that doesn’t make it okay to treat your boss like a pal. This goes without saying, but always be cordial and respect the higher-ups, regardless if they sit next to you or not.
You Need to Have a “Just Do It” Attitude
In a startup environment, you have to solve many problems yourself. Take it from Hughes, who on her first day was asked to organize fitness shoots, a task she was only vaguely familiar with. Since team members are juggling different assignments at once, it helps if you can problem-solve solo. “You need a degree of self-confidence that you’re able to make a correct call,” says Gabrielle Moss, associate editor at Bustle.com. “If I was second-guessing myself on every post I was editing and needed someone on a higher editorial level to look at it just to be sure, that would be a drag of productivity.”
You’ll Find Lots of Room to Experiment
“In a small office, we sometimes had to take initiative to make things happen,” says Hughes. “I learned how to photograph fitness models for articles, make GIFs, and even create social graphics so I could pitch in when we all got busy.” That’s great news for any editor who wants to beef up their resume. There’s plenty of room for experimentation and taking on assignments outside your job description: a perk that’s rarely found at a corporate company. And having that creative freedom allows you to even draw inspiration from interests outside your job. “When I was engaged and planning my wedding, I started writing about my experiences [on SHEfinds.com] and pinning from the site. I grew our Pinterest community to 25K followers, which has become our largest referral source of traffic,” says Schwartz.
Also, keep in mind that your job is all about collaboration. “A startup is built so much on collaborative energy,” says Moss. “You have to be open to everyone snowballing around ideas and being effective at brainstorming.”
People May Not Know Where You Work at First
Most bigger companies have more advertising dollars and bigger marketing teams that help them get on the map in terms of public recognition. But at a startup, resources are limited. “You have to consider whether name recognition is important because not everyone may necessarily know the site or magazine you are writing for,” says Schwartz. This can also make finding sources for stories challenging. “A lot of people I reached out to for interviews in the past had never heard of Greatist,” says Hughes. “If it was a doctor from Minnesota and he hasn’t heard of it, he might not want to take the time to chat with me.”
The bonus to working at a newer company is that you can play a pivotal role in defining the brand. “Your challenge will be getting more people to know it,” says Schwartz.
The Possibilities for Growth Are Endless
While you have the more established brands in the corporate publishing world, startups are just finding their voice. “You’re learning while the company as a whole is figuring out how to best approach everything,” says Moss. That flexibility allows you to take advantage of the small environment and learn new skills outside your job description. And if your startup does well, you can move up in the ranks. “If you are ambitious and bring the goods, so to speak, you can go from being a freelancer or intern to basically running your department,” says Schwarz, who started as a freelance writer at SHEfinds.com. “There might not necessarily be a closet of pens or free Friday lunches, but the trade off is that you can work at a place where the sky is basically the limit.”