Working for a Startup: Why does no one know what I do?

I have worked for Memberoo, a tech startup, in the marketing team for over a year and before i started working here I was working as an admin assistant for the local authority. I love my job. I love working for a tech startup. I talk about it all the time and am really passionate about Memberoo.

Imagine my surprise when I received the following tweet from my mum:

The surprise didn’t come so much from being sent a job advert when I am perfectly happy where I am, or the fact that she seemed keen for me to move to Copenhagen. What I found most surprising was that my mum didn’t seem to know what I do for a living.

I told my housemates about the tweet and then, wanting to check for my own piece of mind, asked them what my job is.

Lorna informed me that I “make media projects… and there’s an app.” While she’s not wrong that there’s an app, I don’t think Tom would like me taking credit for it and I’m honestly not sure what she meant my media projects.

Laura, on the other hand, was much more upfront about her ignorance. “Something in computers. You’re like Chandler. No one knows.”

Is working for a startup like being Chandler-

I pointed out that I knew what they did and neither seemed that bothered. “We have normal jobs,” I was told and i guess, in a way, Store Manager and Paediatric Nurse are more “normal” than Marketeer at a tech startup.

It’s not that I haven’t told these people what I do, or that they are particularly bad listeners. I began to think that maybe there is a disconnect after the word startup.

Neither my brother, Alistair, nor my dad had a strong idea of what my job entailed beyond working for a startup. “I know you work for a tech startup…” Alistair said before trailing off completely.

So why is there such a strange culture around this word? Is it possible that people automatically switch off because they presume they won’t understand what follows it?

The very definition of “startup” is highly debated, is that why there is such confusion?

Natalie Robehmed wrote a wonderful article for Forbes entitled “What is a Startup?” in which she asks various founders what they think a startup is. My favourite quote is from Adora Chung, co-founder of Homejoy, who says “Startup is a state of mind”. I think she’s write, and I think that applies to both people working within one and people who don’t.

Is working for a startup like being Chandler- 2In the same way that Friends played up the fact that unless you work in Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration you are unlikely to know or care enough about it to remember the exact words (cue Rachel shouting “He’s a transponster!”), people working for a tech startup seem generally happy with the air of mystery they have accumulated.

Although I may not have been overjoyed to discover that no one (with the possible exception of my Memberoo colleagues) knows what I do, I have come to accept that explaining my day-to-day is actually more difficult than accepting their explanations. The fact is that every day at my job is different, and that’s one of the things I love about it. While I may go in every morning with a list of jobs to work through, there is always something unpredictable that makes life at a tech startup that little bit more interesting. I wouldn’t change that for anything.


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