Hypergrowth and Being an Early Employee

I was stumbled upon reading a passage from Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook that discusses how early employees can scale. I am currently an early employee at a startup that I consider to be high-growth, we were founded only one and half years ago but now employ hundreds of people.

“Early employees who are humble enough to realize they can learn from fresh blood can grow with the company and use it as a personal platform for their own learning and impact.”
– Elad Gil

Elad suggests that early employees must be humble enough and must optimize for learning from the new but more experienced peers. I then asked Aswin and Angky (our co-founders) on how early employees like me could scale along with the company, not just being eventually replaced by more senior folks. Aswin’s answers perplexed me, but I couldn’t agree more.

“Well, companies grow way faster than people could possibly grow. The equation just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way around that.”

We could try as hard as we could, but the math, the biology, and the wirings on our brain just say it won’t work. I also recently read an article on First Round regarding the laws of startup physics, arguing that:

1) Companies grow exponentially
2) Humans grow linearly

And in a fast-growing startup, the double-edged truth would be:

1) If the company grows as it should
2) It will outgrow many of its people

If those are the premises, what should we as employees (especially early employees) do? Beware that this will not always be the case, companies can stagnate or just go on a death spiral. Meaning employees will grow faster, and eventually leave the company to pursue other opportunities.

I am now planning to practice these two things: to accelerate my learnings and to perform one level above my current role.

1. Accelerating my learnings

This is the immediate consequence that I need to do. It does not matter if the math doesn’t add up, but it still matters that I grow as fast as possible. Otherwise, I am at a disadvantage. I need to learn on the job, by talking to people both inside and outside the company, and from external resources such as books, articles, and even YouTube videos. It is not enough that I learn, I also need to practice what I learn. One of the reason why I started writing on this blog again is to hone my structured thinking and writing skills.

2. Performing one level above my current role

Performing at the level I am in will only lead to a comfort zone. It will be harder to fail and therefore it will be harder to grow. So I need to strecth myself into doing what’s beyond my current capability. Sometimes it will feel really uncomfortable and the success-to-failure ratio will be alarmingly low, but I guess this is the price. As time goes by, I will have my learnings, what’s now uncomfortable will then be a comfort zone, and I will need to find yet another challenge to keep growing.

Every person’s expectation and priority might be different. There’s nothing wrong if you are optimizing for a comfortable environment or stability as long as that’s what you want.

Okay, so, my opinion doesn’t necessarily reflect my employer’s, but if you are keen to face the challenge that I face day-to-day, we are hiring! 🙄