How Working at a Startup Shaped My Life

When I joined a startup coffee chain in 2013, I entered a new world that was fundamentally different from the corporate environment I came from.

Despite the casual dress code, my on-boarding experience started with travelling around town with my boss to retail outlets, warehouses, and roasting plants, meeting licensees and suppliers.

From day one, I was told to get my hands dirty and define my own role. Perhaps, ‘getting things done’ best reflected the culture of any startup company. I learned that everyone did whatever it took to get things done, our business title didn’t matter at all.

I was astounded when my boss told me that ‘you are hired to solve the problems, not to bring up problems’. For someone seasoned with rigidity and authority in corporate culture, it blew my mind to claim ownership in everything I do.

After one and a half year, even though the company was growing, I couldn’t see where I was going in my own path without guidance.

As a one-man marketing team, it was frustrating to feel that I was doing everything and didn’t excel at anything.

The time bomb exploded when a new year started.

In my millennial mind, I took a pay cut to join the company, spent one and a half years as go-getter for the company as it expanded; I believed that I ‘deserved’ more than what was offered.

As corporate dropouts, my colleagues and I were told that we didn’t have what it took to take on a bigger responsibility.

We had to decide for ourselves – could our time, our life and our potential be fully maximised in this environment?

Every journey in life gives us a valuable lesson and propels us forward.

Even though I decided to leave, I truly appreciated the experience and exposure we gained, as well as the opportunity to work directly with founders in a flat organization.

Without the grind and empowerment, I would not have guts to jump into business after that.  

It took time and maturity to mend the relationship, to understand my ex-boss’ point of view and the financial pressure the company underwent at that point.

When I ran a business later, I started to see employment from a different perspective and ask, how was I adding value to the company? Could I justify my demands with the value I created?

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are all striving towards self-actualisation, constantly evolving to be the best of who we could be.

Instead of chasing after short-term gains at the cost of long-term growth, I learned to evaluate a career decision by asking this: which opportunity will allow me to grow in ways I want to grow?

From corporate to coffee to starting a business, I couldn’t have written this script when I left college.

Not having a rigid plan gave me the freedom to seek truth within myself, to take risk, to discover what I could do, who I could be.

It is a space to dream, to imagine, to create, to work on our biggest life work – ourselves. It allowed me to embrace mountains and valleys as life unfolds.

Wherever the path leads, I believe that it will all make sense in the end.

Isabelle Thye
Isabelle Thye

Founder, Future Shapers Consulting

Isabelle is a writer and café consultant based in Malaysia. From a Big 4 accounting firm, a start-up coffee chain, to founding and selling a company, Isabelle is now building a business to create meaningful contents that impact lives.

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