Why Trash Duty is a Privilege at Your Startup Job: 137 Things I Learned At Startup Institute

People like lists and they like numbers, so this is a list of 137 Things I Learned At Startup Institute. But, we're all busy, so I'm just going to tell you one: at your startup job, take out the trash.

Yes.

Literally.

Simulating Startup Life

So, one day we come into Startup Institute and Shaun gets us all in groups and gives us cards that represent startup job functions. Be a developer, a marketer, run sales, product design, a database, a server farm, the office, and, of course, take out the trash. No one wants to take out the trash, even when it's a dumb game with jobs on cards, so I took it. Why? It has to get done. No one else is going to do it. Make your self valuable! Right?

The game proceeds via a reshuffling of teams, a removal of duplicate jobs; a rough simulacrum of startup life in thirty minutes, the eventual layoffs met with smiles (but really, who likes being laid off, even when it's a dumb game with jobs on cards?). At the height of the whole thing, I'm pretend-running a team of developers and managing databases and otherwise fulfilling my fantasy of being a professional CTO. And at the bottom? At rock-bottom, my startup job has been replaced, outsourced, and otherwise left behind.

But! I'm still in the game, even though I'm left holding just one card, my ace in the whole: take out the trash.  It kept me in the game and slowly I got back on top of the pile. And then the game was over, but the lesson-- for me anyway-- was not lost.

Make yourself valuable. In any way you can. Things need to get done, and there isn't time to waste. And people will at the very least tolerate your presence as long as you are contributing. More than likely, they'll also appreciate it.

[bctt tweet="Make yourself valuable. In any way you can. @nicholalexander http://bit.ly/1MgCvei"]

The Real-Deal Startup Job

Which brings me to where I am now. As a Hackstar at Techstars NYC, I get to work with some ridiculously smart people who are building ridiculously cool companies in an environment where "Do More Faster" is more than just a mantra, it's how we live every day.

And while I am slinging code here and there and just otherwise trying to keep up with the twelve hour days and the passion and panic of fifty people trying to make it or break it, lo and behold, there's one job that always seems to need to be done. Three points for guessing which one it is.

And so I, and my fellow Associates and Hackstars, often find ourselves tasked with the less than desirable job of loading up pizza crusts soaked in two day old beer, ramen coffee banana peel soup, and a seemingly endless supply of protein bar wrappers into the trash, bagged and dragged to the hallway, and otherwise neatly disposed of. Its not glamorous. Nor is it fun. After one particularly intense weekend, there was a considerable pile of coffee grounds wedged between two trash cans, and I found my self on a Monday morning, on my knees, mopping it up. But, god dammit, Jim, it's got to be done! Right?

Absolutely right. And I'm lucky to be able to do it.

There are people here who have more important things to do. There are people here, at Techstars, who have dreams that are literally living or dying based on what they figure out about their business right now. Tomorrow they're going to have to do it all over again. These entrepreneurs are building the futures of their companies with every single decision they make.

And #givefirst is also more than just a mantra at Techstars. My opportunity to contribute is not just limited to my ability to give of myself through code-- it is expanded by my opportunity to make the daily environment better for all of these companies. To help them in anyway I can. One way we do that is by taking out the trash, so they don't have to worry about it.

[bctt tweet="My opportunity to contribute is not limited to code @nicholalexander http://bit.ly/1MgCvei"]

Startup Institute is unique in the focus they bring to these skills and values, and their importance in the startup environment. But that is only partially the value SI adds. Fundamentally, Startup Institute also postulates that you, as an individual-- as part of the startup ecosystem and community-- has the opportunity to find a place that fits you, that excites you, that provides you opportunity and inspiration, even in the most seemingly small task.

So.

Take out the trash.

And find the place where you are thankful to do it.[bctt tweet="Find a company where you're thankful to take out the trash @nicholalexander http://bit.ly/1MgCvei"]

Photo credit: Marc Wathieu via Flickr cc