Treat yourself like a startup

You may not know this, but everything I do is dictated by a set of guidelines and a few kanban boards.

Why is this? Because I manage myself like a startup.

Preface: I was originally going to write an article about design today, but after a few conversations I had with friends... I decided to write the article that was nagging at me instead.

Let's start from the beginning

As you probably are aware, my name is Raven. I've spent my conscious entire life trying to make a positive impact on the lives of those around me.

What do I mean by conscious life? I am autistic, I have paranoid schizophrenia, and I've gone through a lot of life changes that rendered me unable to function because of anxiety, paranoia, etc. I first became properly conscious when I was 15, waking up in a group home wondering what I was going to do with my life.

When I woke up and looked out the window I realized I had no future ahead of me. I had no marketable skills, no career plan, nothing.

I decided it was time to figure things out. I called on a few mentors, I researched career paths, and I started figuring out what I wanted to do with myself... but it wasn't enough. It drove me to get good grades, wake up in the mornings, exercise, and eat but nothing felt right still.

It wasn't until a few years later that everything fell into place. A few more years of High School, a few more years of Foster Care, a few more years of life.

The next phase for me

When I was 16 I was an A+ student, perfect fitness, not very social, but I did everything that was expected of me... but I still couldn't find my "calling."

I stumbled into advocacy after being introduced to my states Foster Care Advisory Council, a group of teenagers working to change the system for all foster kids. I saw what they were doing and finally had something that felt like it called to me.

If you know me, what do you think I did?

Yep, I signed up and ended up going all-in and got involved with other advisory groups centered around Juvenile Justice, Drug Abuse, and Foster Care. I attended teen council meetings across the state, traveled to D.C. to attend a conference on Foster Care Advocacy, hell I even gave training to adults about "life in care" and "working with Foster Youth."

I helped co-facilitate trainings on public speaking, LGBTQIA+, teamwork and team motivation, and personal identity. But this wasn't enough for me either.

This helped me figure out that I wanted to make an impact, but it still didn't feel quite right. I wanted to do... more. I wanted something more aligned with a career.

Finally figuring it out

The next step for me was getting involved in online projects.

I found there was an endless supply of online communities, forums, businesses, etc that needed people with skills in marketing, writing, design and that's when it finally clicked. I could learn these skills and fill these gaps.

I had been doing community management (forums, gaming guilds, etc) my entire life to distract myself from school but I didn't consider those skills relevant up to that point. It was all just a hobby, nothing I could seriously turn into a career.

When I saw this gap of people with those skills, I dived in and learned the in's-and-out's and trial-and-error'd my way through learning digital marketing, proper content/copywriting, business strategy, and took all of these fundamental skills I had developed and put them towards "business smarts." This led to me landing part-time and full-time jobs with startups in growth marketing, content marketing, and brand development.

After I started working with startups, I realized I should treat myself like a startup. I was just an idea on paper with no branding, but I had a desire to learn and a rudimentary short-term roadmap of how to go about it.

What it means to treat yourself like a startup

A startup is defined as "a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand." They're usually a high [potential for] growth business that figures things out as they go.

To treat yourself like a startup, you have to define your "business goals", iterate until you find a "market fit", and then brand yourself around that market.

What the hell does that mean? Take a look 👇

Breaking down the technical side of this article

I needed a little space to explain myself, here's where I'll do that. I'll use this section to break down the terms I used and help you get started with running yourself like a startup.

Business Goals

Your business goals are your personal career goals. Do you want to be a Software Engineer for DigitalOcean or a VP Engineering for a MNC? Your business goals can be as specific or as vague as you want.

Your "business goals" help set your goals and figure out the steps that you want to hit on your career path. You can then build your personal branding strategy around it. You'll have to adjust these over time, but what business doesn't?

Market Fit

Your market fit is your fit with your career. Everyone has a different specialization or niche they fill a role in. e.g. Not every Developer Advocate is the same, they bring their own strengths to the table.

Being able to find your market fit means you find a role in the industry where your skills, personality, and goals fit. This takes a lot of work and iterations (jobs, internships, etc) to find and sometimes it will shift over time.

Personal Branding Strategy

Your personal branding is your presence online, offline, etc. This goes from what you wear, to your icon on social media platforms, to the opinions and comments you share on social media.

Your personal branding is the culmination of your business goals and your business strategy, as a person. This is how people view you and how you, or your brand, interacts with them.

Branding

So, the first step of "personal branding" is in the name. "Branding" is the foundation for personal branding. Your profile picture, your banner, your website, your social media feed.

Branding and brand development are not company-exclusive things, people do them all the time for ourselves. If you would schedule a dozen posts to help develop a companies brand, why wouldn't you do the same for your personal brand?

If your thoughts right now are wandering to some random full-time blogger, public speaker, etc then that's good. Those are the people who understand the concept of personal branding, just be authentic with yours.

Tips to personal branding? Uniform profile pictures on the internet (or at least some consistency to what they are), think about your posts before you make them, share cheesy posts about #SocialMediaDaysOfTheYear, and always think about your career and how your employers might react to your social media posts.

Personally, I have a standardized profile picture, @ handle, and bio everywhere. I want to make it easy to access me on every platform and make it easy for people to know it's me.

Digital strategy

Following up on the same note as before, your branding plays hard into having a digital strategy for yourself. This goes from your bio on Quora to what you post on Reddit.

Anyone who does their proper research on a job candidate will look at their social media feed, who follows them, what they follow, what they tweet/post about. The impression you leave is what helps them decide what to do with your application when they assess "culture fit."

Outside of the context of jobs? Social media can be a catalyst for your career, help you network and meet co-founders, mentors, etc. Social Media is what you make of it. If you misuse, abuse, or neglect it then it will do the same back to your personal brand.

Building your product

You are your product, you need to iterate new versions of yourself and take user feedback without shutting down.

As a startup, you have to adjust to the target market but usually your product keeps the same industry. We as humans are the same, we adjust constantly throughout our lives to conform, fit into society, and find our roles in companies.

We need to take time to build our product and not rush our roadmap because we want to have a completed product. It doesn't work like that.

Accountability

So, how do you stay accountable to your personal brand? Simple.

  • Manage your to-do in a task manager (including stuff like posting to Dribbble or Twitter)
  • Have your "brand guidelines" written down somewhere, explaining what you do and don't do, what you believe in, etc. You may know this stuff by heart, but sometimes it's good to take a look at yourself from an outside perspective.
  • Try new things, check your analytics. Data is powerful, look to see what people engage with and adjust your posting to match it.
  • Be authentic. If you're not authentic, why even build a personal brand?

The expanded version?

Take time and plan out parts of your life. Have multiple social media posts you'd like to share? Schedule them using Buffer or something similar. Have a bunch of projects you want to work on? Decide which ones have priority and organize when you'll do what in a task manager, like Notion or Sunsama. With a good task manager, you can work on more than one thing at once without getting overwhelmed.

Write out your goals for the day when you wake up in the morning. A clear list of "what I'd like to do" can help you focus when you feel like you're getting off-track. Look at it every 30-60 minutes, edit it when you need.

Write a blog post. Never hurts to write out your thoughts (just find a good editor before you push it live). Blogging, even if you never publicly share anything, can be a form of therapy or stress relief.

Try new things. Don't let yourself stay in a cycle of doing the same old thing day-after-day. Give yourself the freedom to embrace a new kind of content, whether that's blogging, vlogging, streaming, or just writing out long threads on Twitter about NoSQL vs SQL.

Be authentic, be true to yourself, do what you feel like you need to do. Don't force yourself to be what you're not, plan around what and who you are. Speak with your voice, not a fake one.

Recognize when you need to take a break. Rest and relaxation is a vital part of success, regardless of what my sleeping patterns will tell you. 🤕 We all need a personal life, time for friends and family, etc.

Takeaways from this article

If you take anything away from the article, take these points away.

  • You are a human being, but you are selling yourself and your brand constantly.
  • In a digital age, we're always under scrutiny. This can be good or bad.
  • Be accountable to yourself and your goals in everything you do.
  • When you need a break, take a break (just blog about it afterward).
  • Take your time to build your "product"
  • Don't be afraid to try new things
  • Advocate for what you believe in.

To treat yourself like a startup, you have to define your "business goals", iterate until you find a "market fit", and then brand yourself around that market.

Thanks for reading, if you liked this article please follow me on Twitter for more great content.

Comments (1)

Tapas Adhikary's photo

Raven,

Great one.. bookmarked to read it again!👍👍👍