How to Apply the Startup Mentality to Your Day Job

Mar 01, 2013 -
The first few weeks at a new job, you feel lost. You’ve got new coworkers and new responsibilities, and you don’t really understand what’s going on at the office. You took this new job with high ambition. Now you’re questioning what you’re even doing with your life. You start to feel like a small part in a big machine. You start to wonder what happened to your ambition, your drive to do big things. A new job does that to you. You go from excited to drained quickly. I’ve felt it myself. Recently, after two years of running my own startup, I took a job working for someone else. The 9-to-6 life threw me out of rhythm. But then I realized I didn't have to treat it like an ordinary job. I could bring the startup mentality with me to my new work—and rediscover all of the energy and hustle I’d known in the startup life. These questions helped me figure it out, and they can help you, too:

1. Who's your team?

In the startup world, the quality of your team matters most. Average teams do average work—no matter how amazing the idea they’re working on. At your job, look around you. Who do you work with on a daily basis? Who do you go to when you need to take on a big project? If you're not sure, cast a wider net. Where are the people at your company who can help you do the type of work you want to do? Find those people. Connect with them. Make time for them. You're going to need a great team to do great work.

2. What are you working toward?

People get lost in their jobs—or, more accurately, people get lost in the routine of their jobs. Over days and weeks, a desk job can start to feel like an assembly line. You punch in. You punch out. You try to crank out some good work, but good work doesn't always feel like it gets rewarded. So, what are you working toward? Why are you here? Is there a skill you want to learn? Are you here to get better? Because a workplace can be a really amazing place for a young person to gain new skills and learn from coworkers. Figure out what you're here for, and you'll find yourself coming to work with purpose—not dread.

3. How hard are you willing to work?

The strangest thing for me, coming from a startup to a big company, is the hours. On Fridays, my bosses wish me a good weekend. (A weekend? I get weekends off? I get nights off?) Something didn't get done by 6:00 p.m. on Friday? That's alright; it can wait until Monday. I still can't believe that. I barely took any time off at my startup. I woke up by 6:00 a.m. I went to bed late at night. I worked all day, every day. If I didn't do the work, who would? Hustle is a differentiator in this world, and I didn’t want to lose that startup mentality now that I was at a big company. The same holds true for you. Find opportunities to put in the hours. No, you don't need to go to a 14-hour work day. But if you're trying to prove to your boss that you're capable of taking on more tasks, find time to do the work that shows off your abilities. Maybe that means putting in a few hours on a Sunday working on something for your boss. Maybe it means staying in on a Friday night to teach yourself new skills that will matter on Monday morning. Whatever it is, hustle for it. Make time for great work. Jobs can breed complacency. They give you security, but they also sometimes take away the fear. Startups are terrifying places to work, and that’s because they make you understand that what exists today might not exist tomorrow. At a startup, your work and your team are often all you have. Bring that attitude to your job. Work for today. Don't let things wait until Monday. Don't get complacent. These questions can help get you into the startup mentality, but the rest of the work is up to you. Go do great work. Dan Oshinsky is an editor at BuzzFeed, where he builds new stuff for the Web. He's also the founder of, a long-form news experiment. Find him on Twitter @danoshinsky.