Annie Hsieh

Ruby developer & aspiring entrepreneur

© 2014 Annie Hsieh All rights reserved.
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Why I Enjoy Being an Early Startup Employee

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”

- Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg)

team pic The Written team getting ready to shoot lasers at each other. (Sept 2013)

I told myself I wasn’t going to get involved in another startup while looking for work last year. My parents and family had been nagging me to just find a stable job at a large company and I was headed in that direction. That all changed when I met with one of the co-founders of Written about doing some development work and possibly becoming the startup’s first employee. People warned me against joining a startup this early and shared their bad experiences with me but I could sense that the startup had a real potential to be a rocket ship so I had to get on. 

After working at Written for a year, I still am as excited to go to work every day as when I first started. This is not to say that this year hasn’t been filled with a lot of hard work and struggles but I really have enjoyed the ride so far. Here are the reasons why:

Motivation to Learn

The media often talks about high salaries and all kinds of perks tech people can get from working at a startup and everyone’s heard the stories of employees striking it rich after a big exit. The reality at an early-stage startup is that if those are the things you expect when you join and your main motivators, you’ll be disappointed. Your salary will likely be lower than market rate until the startup finds significant traction and/or VC funding. There’s only really a small chance the stock options you receive will ever amount to anything.

I really like the way Mark Suster (an entrepreneur turned VC) frames the motivation question behind joining a startup in this post. He asks, “Is it time for you to earn or to learn?” For me, it’s definitely time for me to learn. I hope to start my own company someday so the opportunity to learn more about the whole process without as much of the founding risk has been very valuable. As the only Rails developer, I’m learning so much simply because there is no one else to lean on when things need to get done. I’ve found that building whole systems from scratch has led me to learn more about Ruby, Rails, scaling applications and dev ops at a much faster rate than ever before.


It’s easier to get through the grind of working at an early-stage startup if you are really passionate about what you are building. I didn’t join Written with a passion for blogging or content marketing but what I did come in with is a passion for web development and writing good code, which made sense for my role in the startup. Being continuously surrounded by the founders who are passionate about the main product focus has pushed me to strive to do my best work though and has helped grow my interest in it. Now I am a believer that what I’m helping to build can be a game-changer in the content marketing space.

Embracing the Roller Coaster Ride

Many people say working at a startup is like riding a roller coaster and this has definitely been my experience. One day your startup receives its first check from a major customer and everyone is celebrating, the next day you’re being kicked out of your office and have to scramble to find a new space. The continuous cycle of highs and lows can really take a toll if you let it. I’ve found that if you don’t take the time to celebrate all the high points, even the small wins, you’ll find that it will be hard to get through the low points.

Life Outside of Work

It’s so easy to be consumed by all the work that needs to get done at an early-stage startup and experience burnout without a good work/life balance. To counteract that, I keep up with some interests like live music, knitting and lots of time outdoors with my dogs. Also, most of my friends work outside of startups and the tech industry so when I spend time with them, they help me take my mind off of work. Written’s culture helps with this as well because Josh, our CEO, has said from the beginning that it isn’t the hours we put in that matter but that the work gets done. This really allows for me to work smarter and gives me the ability to take weekends off and come back excited to continue working.

The Founders

The people that make up the startup are an especially important part of the experience. You spend so much time working together that if they aren't people that you get along well with or don't help you reach your goals, you likely won't enjoy the experience. I was a bit wary of joining a team where I would be the only woman due to the "brogrammer" culture I've experienced at some startups. The founders quickly made clear that they would not put up with such a culture at Written and I felt comfortable knowing I would definitely have a hand in building the culture.

Even before I joined Written, just in talks with the founders, I could tell that my values and personality aligned with theirs and that I would work well with them. They are all experienced entreprenuers and yet don't take themselves too seriously, which makes working with them fun. Also, knowing that starting a company is a big goal of mine, they willingly share some of their knowledge with me even when it doesn't directly relate to our startup and make sure I get as much from working there as I put in.

I hope this gives a glimpse of what it's like as an early startup employee and why I've chosen to be one. Working at a startup is definitely not for everyone but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else right now. If you want to chat more about what it's like to work at startups, especially if you're a woman, feel free to reach out, I'm @ankey on Twitter.