What’s it like to work for a start-up?

You’re probably in the swing of applying for graduate schemes now, especially as many of them start to close soon. But have you considered working in a smaller company, like a start-up? They can offer fantastic opportunities as you’ll work in a fast-paced environment across a variety of roles, and can have a lot of responsibility early in your career.

Who better to tell you about what it’s really like to work in a start-up as a graduate, than a graduate themselves, who is working in a start-up?

We caught up with Neal Abdool, who graduated from Henley Business School in 2019 with a BA in Entrepreneurship and Management with Placement Experience, about his experience at OpenBlend. OpenBlend provide a people-centred performance management tool for mid-sized businesses, such as Lacoste, Depop, BMW & Avios. The world of HR and HR SaaS tools is an exciting space, which has recently seen a massive growth, hence lots of opportunities for Sales Development roles opening up with high potential for early-career acceleration. This is not something that is widely available in big name companies.

What’s it like working for a start-up?
No two-days are the same, time flies by and you enjoy every minute! We’re at a really exciting time in HR software and companies really want to create a culture that attracts and engages people, so being responsible for selling that value is exciting in itself!

What do you do for OpenBlend?
I work in a sales development, which at OpenBlend consists of telesales, email campaigns, organising & attending events and LinkedIn engagement. As well as this, I support every department because that’s required by each employee in a start-up. I’ve recently done voiceovers for product videos, which I didn’t know I enjoyed before!

What does a typical day look like for you?
This is a difficult one… I started this Q&A stating that no two-days are the same! I carve out enough time to get my core job done each day (calling and emailing prospects). Aside from this, I’m looking ahead to find new accounts to go after, trialling new ways to attract prospects and then filling my time with whatever the day throws at me!

What are the benefits of working in a start-up?
You spend time with everyone in the office; this is underrated. In large companies, you rarely work in close quarters with the CEO, COO, Tech Team or Client Success. However, in a start-up you’re hired because of your value and all functions of the business genuinely trust your input and require it every single day. I promise you that this is something you will not encounter every day in larger organisations.

Do you work in an office? / How many people do you work with?
Yes, we have our own space in Maidenhead where all 15 of us are based. With flexible working and some of the team needed at pitches/demos/events, it’s usually quieter but Alexa keeps the vibe going! We are growing at the moment with 2 new hires soon to join as well as an apprentice!

Do you work long hours?
Yes and no! No one goes home until the job is done; some days are busier than others but it’s up to you how much effort you want to put in and the rewards will vary depending on that. Attending evening events means that sometimes I’m not home until 11 or 12 at night, but this is what I enjoy and therefore I don’t mind! Office days can vary, it just depends on the workload.

Is it what you expected?
It has exceeded my expectations! I underestimated how involved I would be as a young graduate and therefore how much experience I will have for my future endeavours. There is a bit of a juggling act of priorities as an organised person so you have to be patient in a start-up, everything moves at 100mph and things are never completed by the diary.

Is it for everyone?
If you’ve read this far, it probably means you’re engaged and excited by the fact that you’ll never be bored, never run out of things to do and can be included in so many different aspects of the business. If you’re one of these people, then a start-up culture/company is so right for you!

How did you find the job and what was the job application process like?
Talking honestly, it’s not the same as you’re typically application process including assessment days or phone interviews. I was referred into this job and my first interview was in-person with the CEO, Anna Rasmussen.

I knew I fitted the exact profile for this role and was a referral. I went in with the confidence that they wanted me to join! I sat down with Anna for two hours and spoke for about 15 minutes of this interview. I’ve never had an interview like this before, where someone spoke to me with so much passion about the product, company, people, culture and vision. She sold to my WHY I should want to work there and she chose her words carefully by talking about how I would fit in to the current team.

After this, I was invited back to meet the Co-Founder/Client Success Director and the CFO. I spoke more in this interview, but it felt more like a conversation. I’m great at talking to people, but I do not enjoy or see value in an interview where the interviewer(s) have a set of 30 questions, and you’re supposed to have 30 different answers. Instead, I got to show them the real me and I believe this is why they sent me an offer straight after that interview.

How does it compare with your placement year?
They are worlds apart. I’m someone who can’t sit still, clockwatch and I struggle with when I’m bored. In a corporate environment, I didn’t get to try out new things or work with different departments. The Christmas/Summer parties were bigger and more glamourous, but that novelty wears off after not very long. Soon you’ll find that it’s about the people you work with, the opportunity to excel and how you’re valued. Instead, OpenBlend has me occupied throughout the whole day – I never finish everything on my to-do list and I’m so appreciate of working for a company where I wake up every day wanting to go to work and make a difference!

However, I am grateful for my placement year because it made me much more attractive when looking for jobs after university. I do believe that without that year, I wouldn’t have landed this opportunity or had offers from other companies.

How do you think working in a start-up will help your career in the long run?
I’ve been given a lot of responsibility at OpenBlend including being at the forefront of driving awareness of our performance management tool. It’s definitely given me the right experience to establish myself and the company, which will be invaluable if I were to combine this with my degree and start my own business in the future.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
I hope this has provided a useful insight into the life of a graduate in a start-up. I’m always available for a call and would be more than happy to answer any questions! Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.

Neal Abdool, Sales Development, Open Blend