Go Join the Startup

Why work at a startup + some takeaways from Brex

How it happened for me

Before Brex, I started my engineering career at Apple (Siri). In late 2017, I was catching up with an extremely talented friend who said fascinating things about a new credit card company called Brex. It turns out that some of the brightest, most driven people of my generation — including my friend — were part of this founding team.

Choosing the startup to join

Betting on a startup as an employee is, in many ways, similar to thinking like a venture capitalist. I am not a VC but if I were one, I would put a lot of emphasis on the team.

Some Personal Lessons

Company

  1. As a company, always be working towards a big goal together. This is powerful in rallying the team and bringing the company together in a unified mission.
  2. Set key metrics and track them obsessively on a regular basis. Be transparent and honest about how the company is doing. The good thing about having a very clear metric (i.e. GMV) is that you can align everyone and it’s super clear when we’re doing well vs. not. Always show charts, month-over-month growth, etc. on a regular basis
  3. When you achieve something that you previously thought was almost impossible or really hard, you experience unprecedented personal growth. Especially when you do that with a group of people.
  4. The effectiveness of written decisions (DACI framework), especially in a remote world.
  5. Treating employees like adults with transparency builds a lot of trust.
  6. It is more effective to increase value prop and reasons to buy, than to only rely on minimizing cost
  7. Brex is in the business of rethinking financial products. See the treasure chest in the Engineering blog
  8. Customer love is manifested through cross-functional collaboration in big initiatives. It’s Engineering/Product + Ops + CX + Marketing. Orgs learn from each other and are brought together by the goal of delighting the customer
  9. It’s not enough to have good intentions — you need a system that enforces it and makes sure you’re always executing (carrot and stick)

Culture

  1. Values: Dream Big, Inspire Customer Love, Impatient Optimism, One Brex, Growth Mindset, Ownership
  2. It is possible to be both kind/empathetic/humble and extremely ambitious
  3. At an early rocketship, there will be challenges. But owner’s mentality means that instead of blaming the environment, you have the ability and duty to make it better
  4. Everybody is a salesperson, and everybody is a recruiter. You do it automatically and not from a desire to be awarded something
  5. Values interviews are critical. Never budge on this. Values interviewers should be bar raisers for company culture
  6. Ownership is when you stop waiting for answers, and instead just execute towards the reality you want
  7. The spirit of requesting and giving feedback is everywhere, and it doesn’t always have to be anonymous
  8. Leaders should represent the company’s values. As a leader, you have the responsibility to embody the culture of the company — at a personal level
  9. One way to motivate really driven people is through big, challenging goals and problems. Show the progress we’re making to get there. Acknowledge it’s hard. And give ownership

Management & Personal

  1. Being a manager makes your heart grow bigger. The best managers are also very thoughtful and aware of their reports’ focus areas and output. They have their reports’ back and stand up for their team. They show off the work done by their reports. They are punctual. They follow up and follow through with their words.
  2. Praise in public, reprimand in private
  3. “I trust you, make the call” is an extremely powerful thing to hear from a supervisor
  4. Delegate until it hurts. This gives ownership to others, while also freeing you to do the highest leverage thing
  5. You will make mistakes and you will learn. Mistakes (especially public ones) make you humble too.
  6. If you can dream big and execute, the world is your oyster

Engineering & Product

  1. The highest impact features are not always the biggest technical challenges
  2. Demo a lot
  3. Praise and highlight invisible/infra work
  4. From The Effective Engineer: “I’ve found that almost all successful people write a lot of tools … [A] very good indicator of future success [was] if the first thing someone did on a problem was to write a tool.”
  5. Logging/tracing: Invest in observability as early as possible. It’s good for your systems and customers
  6. You never, ever regret writing documentation. What you think is easily remembered/taken for granted today is what you will thank yourself for jotting down tomorrow. Document all the things!
  7. Architecture docs & forums: Always include multiple options and describe their tradeoffs. Ultimately recommend one design though.

CTA for Women in Engineering

I’ll conclude this post with a message to women in tech. :)

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