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Startup job descriptions: the real version

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 21, 2012 11:00 AM

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Ross, my business partner (his title is CEO), and I were laughing as we stuffed t-shirt scraps into trash bags.

"Imagine if we wrote this in our job description: Cut thousands of t-shirts into square one foot by one foot pieces, and then wait until t-shirt scrap pile took over too much space in office, and then drive dozens of gallon trash bags to Worcester to get them recycled so that Millbury Recycling can break them down into particles that can be stuffed into car seats.

A potential investor recently told us we had to be more realistic about our job duties, and as an exercise, write down what our duties consist of during the week. This seemed crazy at the time, but as I gave it some more thought, while typing USPS delivery confirmation codes, ‘3432 2134...” into shopify, I thought about how it could be useful.

By the time the calendar year comes to an end, we need to hire someone to help us do a lot of the daily tasks that two people can not undertake by themselves if the business is going to truly grow. For the football fans out there, we need a Troy Brown. He is in the Patriots Hall of Fame now, but he started on special teams, became a wide receiver, also led the team in interceptions, and at one point, even played quarterback. Sometimes he got all the glory, sometimes none, but he won two Super Bowls.

For the non sports fan, think about all the little things you do in life that seem like an after thought, or a waste of time, or a nuisance when you have other things to, but in the end are essential. Find a good car insurance plan, sell your car, buy a car, research cars online, have your car mechanic do a tune up, renew your license, register to vote, schedule your dentist appointment, call the landlord about the leaking sink, go out with your friends, handle your friends who think you aren’t spending enough time with them, apologize to your friend about a certain situation that you know you are right about but it’s better if you just say you are sorry, tell your mother you will visit on the 21st, be fifteen minutes late on the 21st because your brother was late, but come up with a different excuse for your mother. It goes on, right?

Think about Troy Brown and think about chores and properly handling friends and family, and that’s what working at a start-up is like, especially a Project Repat start-up.

People still send cover letters and resumes, but that’s not how we evaluate who could be successful. The role is not defined, and the duties aren’t stable. People say you need to be flexible to work in a startup, but what does that actually mean?

This is what your first day may look like: come in twenty minutes earlier than expected and process dozens of boxes and make sure everyone has the proper amount of t-shirt blankets in the box; if they don’t, send them an email requesting more shirts or asking if it’s okay to use the backs for the fronts. Later, go to Staples to pick up more stickers and posters, while answering customer service, then drop off blanket boxes at a store that has requested them, while retweeting two different customers who posted a picture of their Repat blanket. Come back to the office and brainstorm more creative ways to sell online and create engagement programs on college campuses and marathons, then summarize brainstorming, and send to advisor. Call a few races and ask what they think of the idea, and then decide what resources to allocate. Take an hour and research all the PTAs in these zipcodes and ask them if they need a new fundraising mechanism. Make sure to write thank you notes to a few council members who came by the office earlier in the day, and prepare a pitch deck for a brand that we may be partnering with, but don’t forget to take out the trash, and pick up a box from the landlord since there was nobody in the office when FedEx came.

As you can see, sometimes the job is glamorous and sometimes it’s not, but it is always interesting. Sometimes you win the t-shirt blanket Super Bowl.

I still haven’t seen a good description of a first or second hire for a consumer goods start-up with a social mission, and maybe this can start a trend to a more realistic kind of job description. Someone recently told me that they hire people who have worked restaurant jobs, and that may be a great indicator. You have to take a lot of crap, fit through small places, always be attentive, know that the customer comes first, be on time, and for the most part, do whatever it takes. That’s more like it.

When people graduate from college, they have spent the past four years doing critical thinking, analyzing texts, and (hopefully) learning how to process information and write about it intelligently. The post-college world is about something a little different-- connecting dots. Early stage start-ups don’t have the time or money to bring people on who can’t make giant leaps from picking up something quickly to not getting discouraged when things don’t work out everyday. It’s a roller coaster, but you know that; you saw Troy Brown get cut, start, get cut again, but then win two Super Bowls.

Nathan Rothstein is President of Project Repat, focused on creatively recycled consumer goods that create socially and environmentally responsible jobs in the US.

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