The Community Club

Discussion on: AMA with Cindy Au

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Sofia Rodriguez • Edited on

Hi Cindy! What drew you to early-stage startups? & what do you think it took to be successful at them (as you reflect back at your career)?

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Cindy Au Ask Me Anything

Honestly, when I first got started I did not have a traditional background (I'd been in academia for almost a decade) and I just didn't have a resume that could get me a job in an industry with established requirements. So in some ways I was drawn to startups out of necessity, but now that I've only worked for startups, I can safely say it is where I am most at home :)

I think one of the most important things to keep in mind with startups is most of them fail. It was only by chance that the first one I joined not only did not fail, but actually succeeded and succeeded very quickly. Working at a startup where everything is growing and the numbers look great and there are no concerns about revenue/profit is definitely not the norm.

So for a more typical early startup experience, I'd say you really need to be open-minded, flexible, and comfortable with having limited resources, structure, and management. The flip-side of that coin is that if you have a knack for operations, strategy, management, or leadership, you can very quickly grow within a startup - every startup needs these things in every department, especially early on.

For me personally, after teaching college students and being a waitress for so many years, working in a startup felt like a dream. I had a desk! And snacks?? Things that might stress out startup teams dealing with customer issues, bad press, things breaking/constantly being on fire seemed pretty a-okay in comparison to someone shouting in your face because you forgot to refill their diet coke. "Calm under fire" is a phrase you often see in community role descriptions, and that definitely came in handy throughout my career, and helped unlock new opportunities for me. People typically remember leaders for how they managed the tough situations - not the easy ones - and I like to believe I was able to help my teams and the companies I've worked for get through many a crisis over the years.

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Sofia Rodriguez

Thank you for a very thoughtful response! "People typically remember leaders for how they managed the tough situations - not the easy ones" is so true.