Extracting Value as an Employee

Listen: the company will be fine. Even though corporations are people, these are people whose feelings you don’t have to care about.

Your job, as an employee of a high-flying unicorn or a small startup, is to try to extract as much value as you can from the company. You can be passionate about your work, be nice and forge friendships with coworkers, and work hard, all without pledging fealty to the organization.

Salary and equity is nice, of course, but… where do you want to be in five years? How do you start getting there right now?

I wish I had known this earlier in my career. It’s tough, too: when you’re fresh out of school it can be hard to figure out if you want to be an engineer for the next decade, or switch to management, or start a company, or do something else entirely.

It’s also easy to take potshots at people who are better at this than you, too. They’re schmoozers. Or they’re unqualified to be a manager. Or they lucked out by getting on that team, and then the team took over the company. Sure, that might be part of it. But a large part of life is showing up, and these people show up.

If you think you want to be a manager in five years, start working towards that now. Try to run some small projects, try to hang around other managers and soak up their knowledge. You’re never going to be qualified to be a manager when you start out, so you might as well get that part out of the way first and get on the learning path faster.

If you think you want to start a company in five years, start working towards that now. Read up and understand concepts like fundraising, finance, and product work (or everything, really; such is the life of a founder). Start meeting investors and other founders way early on, so you’re in a better position to talk to them later and learn from them as you go.

It’s not personal, Sonny; it’s strictly business. You don’t have to do it all the time like some sort of machine… but think about the long-term, from time to time, and take some action to head in that direction today.