My journey into the startup world began in 2013 at Menufy, a Kansas-based company that converts restaurant menus into digital menus so that customers can order online. I started there as one of their first employees, back when they had an office about the size of a large walk-in closet. Though Menufy is bootstrapped (funded by its own co-founders), it has since incorporated, grown to over 25 employees, reached almost all 50 states, and has over 1,400 restaurants registered with them, with hundreds being added each month. Working at a startup or a small business is like having a small classroom, where you can get more individualized attention than when you're among hundreds of other students in large lecture halls, which is akin to conventional corporations. It's by far one of the best training grounds you can get as a college student to get a head-start in your career, regardless of your major.
Top 10 Lessons I Learned at Menufy:
1) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions:
When in doubt, ask someone; there’s no such thing as a dumb question, so it’s better to ask than to jump to conclusions and make your own assumptions.
If you want a promotion or a raise, then you can speak directly with management and ask what it’ll take to get there. If you disagree with something, politely ask for the reasoning behind it and communicate your perspective and suggestions. You have a voice, so don't be afraid to speak up and use it!
When you work at a startup, you'll see everyone has their unique skills, but nobody will have the answers for everything and that includes the owners. However, don’t let that stop you from asking the tough questions. It could then lead to finding answers, and as a bonus, you'll be respected for your curiosity.
2) School-Work-Life Balance:
Pace yourself and beware of burning out.
Take a break to stay productive, because taking your work worries home can cause you to become stressed, which affects performance and morale.
Since startups are generally pretty small they’re able to accommodate their employees’ educational, personal, and professional needs, and get to know each individual and how they’re doing, which allows for better understanding of what it takes to have a school-work-life balance (something many college students lack).
3) Take Initiative:
Instead of just pointing out the problems, take initiative and help find a solution, or drop a suggestion to someone that has the resources to do so.
If it’s a question nobody knows how to answer, research it and present your findings to the team. Unlike rigid corporate structures, startups often allow employees the freedom to take initiatives and appreciate efforts that go beyond the scope of defined responsibilities to help the company or its clients.
4) Failures are Lessons Learned:
Failures and mistakes are inevitable, accept them as part of the learning process.
Seek challenges and face them head-on, because failures are the best teachers and it makes everyone stronger the next time around.
Menufy didn’t succeed in all their endeavors pursued, but they continue to stand out due to their resilience and ability to adapt based on what everyone learned from their setbacks.
5) Communication is Key:
Making sure everyone is on the same page, both internally and externally, is hard work, yet it’s a crucial part in keeping a business flowing smoothly.
At Menufy, every possible method to connect with members or teams associated with the business was explored, including group messaging, google docs, emails, texts, Facebook, video calls, phone calls, etc. however, there can still be breakdowns in communication.
To avoid misunderstandings, separate each individual’s or team’s roles, have open communication by carbon copying emails extensively, and if you learn something new, share it in the form of Knowledge Transfer meetings; even if you think everyone might know already there’s a possibility that they don’t.
6) Be an Organized Multitasker:
Sometimes you have to multitask, but make sure to set-up a system for yourself or else things can quickly slip through the cracks.
Invest in two computer monitors to work from if you need to have many windows open (or three, or six… whatever you’re comfortable with), continuously close tabs you don’t need, and create templated responses to frequent questions or comments from customers so you can save time.
While at Menufy, calls would come in while I was working on another account, which would lead to 3 other new tasks that needed to be done, but before I could finish those another issue may come up that needed my attention, which ended up with an even longer to-do list and open tickets.
If you can’t limit the interruptions and have to multitask, then at least have a method to manage the chaos.
7) Your Tone Affects Your Message:
‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ because Psychology Today states that communication is “55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% actual words spoken”.
How you portray your message will affect how people react to it, and if your communication is over the phone then tone takes further precedence, so take a moment to pause and process before speaking.
There were times I had to adjust my tone and attitude with clients depending on where they were from. For example, speaking to someone on the east coast meant I was more productive when I spoke a bit louder, had a more assertive attitude and used a firm tone, while communicating with a client on the west coast or even the Midwest, it helped when I used a more calm, laid-back attitude, and a conversational tone.
Gauge people’s communication style and reflect it back to them. People are more likely to accept what they’re familiar with, but of course, always maintain a polite and professional demeanor no matter how you adapt.
8) Build Relationships:
To succeed personally and professionally, make an effort to develop meaningful connections.
I got into Menufy after meeting one of the co-founders at a networking event and following-up with him for his second project; Linkedin, the National Public Radio (NPR) and ABC News shared similar reports lately, stating that approximately 80% of jobs are landed through personal connections.
At Menufy, that rate is slightly higher, with over 90% of the employees coming from internal referrals. When there’s a large stack of qualified candidates, who you know and their recommendation makes a big difference.
Do things together outside of work like rock-climbing, seeing movies, participating in team building events, having video game nights, or running a 5k event together. These things benefits work relationships and creates connections that last beyond the job, which can result in win-win opportunities in future endeavors.
9) Be an Active Listener:
One of the most important aspects in any type of relationship is listening respectfully, but this doesn’t mean to stop at quietly taking in the message.
To have a more meaningful interaction, you have to engage the speaker or client and ask questions, take notes, make connections, and follow-up or show that you understand. Menufy stands out among its competitors not only for their great product, but they also have great customer service which was built on their team’s ability to listen, comprehend, and actively work to help customers resolve their issues and concerns.
10) Embrace Change:
In the startup industry, the only constant is change.
You can be told something one week, but then have it completely change the next. Sometimes changes and decisions happen within a day, or a project can be pulled last minute even if you've been working on it for weeks.That's normal! Things can get chaotic, so sometimes you have to go with the flow, while other times you have to be someone that helps shape it.
Your views toward change, positive or negative, will affect how you react, whether you embrace or avoid it. Menufy taught me to embrace change every time as a chance to grow and get better. Although deviating from what's familiar can be scary, and the outcomes are uncertain, staying comfortable in old ways won’t open new doors, nor help a business stay competitive; to be ahead of the curve, they have to prioritize growth, and never stop learning, adapting, and improving.
Menufy has been like a second home to me for over 3 years, where I got to be a Tech Support member, Project Manager, and eventually Project Manager Lead, but it's time to embrace change and move on to the next chapter in my life. The skills I gained working at Menufy helped open doors to new opportunities, and I hope this list encourages other college students to look into getting similar experiences at startups and small businesses as well.
You’ll discover an environment where you're part of a family, where you can communicate directly with upper management and are treated like an equal, where you feel like the work you do actually makes an impact, where you celebrate milestones and company victories like holidays, and in general, where you can experience things that might be lost or harder to find at a mainstream corporation. However, the skills and lessons learned at startups can prepare you for those high-flying corporate jobs after college, if that’s your goal… but you just might find yourself developing a fondness for the challenging, unpredictable, and exciting startup world to make a career of it too!
Have you worked at a startup or a small business before? If so, where was it and what did you do? I'd love to hear about your stories and experiences!
If you'd like to know more about Menufy, sign-up your favorite restaurant that still doesn't offer online ordering (or does, but isn't user-friendly), or if you're wondering about possible opportunities with them, please visit Menufy.com, send me a message, or leave a comment below!
All opinions and experiences expressed in this article are those of the author only, and do not necessarily reflect all opinions or experiences had at Menufy, or at other startups and small businesses.