Diaries of a first employee

Yes, the title has a very teenage girl movie kind of vibe. Yes, that was on purpose.

I’m the first employee of Majisti, in a time where we don’t yet have a big office. In fact, when I started we both worked in our apartment, each of us in our bedrooms only sometimes setting ourselves up to do pair programming or talk about some aspect of the business (we’d call those Couch Business, for obvious reasons). Then after work, we’d simply get out of our rooms and make supper and normal everyday things, but we were still “at work”. My flatmate and friend was now also my boss. It was/is far from normal work conditions and I don’t often see people talking about how to handle your first employee at a point in your business when the workspace is… eclectic to say the least.

And I won’t talk about it either. I don’t know how to handle it, I just know how we handled the situation, so that’s what I’ll talk about; it worked for us so there must be some useful tidbits of information in there!

Working With One of Your Friend

I knew I was getting into kind of a weird job as far as stability and conditions went, but I was mostly okay with that. What did scare me though was working my friend and, at the time, flatmate. You might be best buddies with someone, but any big change of dynamic is dangerous, be it moving in together or starting to work together, and we were doing both in a very small amount of time.

At this point, the important thing is to be clear about what each of you expects. Majisti has a very specific philosophy (maybe we’ll talk about it in a future post) when it comes to the work done and it was important I follow said philosophy; as for me, I can not stand working for someone. I’ll work with you. From the get go, we both made our expectations clear with each other (before even starting to work together I think) and that was something I feel was really important in how future events would unfold. Of course, doing so might mean you don’t end up working together, but I feel like being brutally honest about this will help everyone involved in the future.

You Are Not Friends at Work

Let’s repeat this again: You are not friends at work. This is something I think Steven struggled with, he’d often be very careful in telling me I fucked up or forgot something. He was being a friend, but the truth is between 9am and 5pm, he was my boss. I’m not saying he’s allowed to treat me like crap (of course that’s not what I’m saying), but it does mean whenever we talk and end up arguing about something, he gets the final word. It’s his business after all. I can disagree, we often do (and I’ll let him know), but when the final word is given, I’ll follow.

However, (to me) this only really works because we allow each other to critique and argue about anything. Processes, coding practices, tools used, documentation, workflow, anything. We often do, throwing arguments at each other about why we think our individual ways are better than what’s already there or what the other wants until one of us eventually wins. I won some, he did some. Others he outright overruled. That’s fine too, like I said, it’s his business and since most things I can argue about, when he does put on his boss hat, I can’t really complain and I know he’s not just doing it to be an ass.

Talk. A Lot. About a Lot of Things

You’re the owner of your business, you’ve got your work habits, you want to grow the business, you made sacrifices to get where you are now.

You’re an employee, you’re used to doing only certain tasks, your schedule has always been clearly defined, days off and vacations too.

Both those things aren’t true anymore though. You have an employee and you work for a little start up. Schedules can get weird, processes will get irrelevant or ineffective with two people, the work place might not be ideal, there can’t be any single person doing only a specific set of tasks. A lot of things will be either unknown, disliked or simply unexpected. For both of you. It’s crucial you guys talk it out.

We had entire nights (remember, we lived together) dedicated to us talking about what we either liked or disliked. We’ve both been at fault at least once and it’s important the other one can be honest about it. Don’t be afraid to stop work to talk, or say you’re sorry about something you did or said. Don’t be afraid to tell the other person you like the work they did. Accept critique. Talk! And then talk again!!

Everyone’s Hands Are Dirty

This one might be a little more personal and it’s really not something we struggled with, but I feel it’s not something that might not be readily apparent so I’d like to point it out. We were both taking a risk in working together. I realize it’s a much bigger risk for a business owner to take in his first employee and all the added costs that brings, but let’s not forget, the employee could very well take his skills and knowledge somewhere else, and in doing so have a potentially better pay and better conditions.

He will need to do a lot more than he would otherwise in a more establish business; I can tell you I had never dealt with clients as much as I do now and don’t even get me started on anything closely business-related! The simple fact that Steven recognized that went a long way in us having a smooth ride.

You Are Not a (Whatever) Developer Anymore

This is something I did not realize at all when I started at Majisti. The new employee will have to do a lot more than he used to. I was a Flash developer (I know, Flash right?), before I joined Majisti and when I did, oh boy did I have to learn a lot of stuff. Suddenly I was doing frontend, backend, design, dealing with clients, a bit of business management, technical writer, tech support for some clients, secretary, hell I even did a bit of finances. The point is, you will need to be flexible; the company is young, without the ability to pay for all the human resources it would need so you will have to be the accountant sometimes.

The good news is your new boss has either done it before or you’re both new at it and will learn together. Which brings me to my last point.

You Are Both Together in This

I refuse to appropriate myself any credit when it comes to where Majisti currently is. Steven worked crazy hard to get where he is and I will never dare take this away from him, but today, as I’m writing this I’m confident in saying that once we started working together, it was suddenly us both in this boat working our asses off to grow this business. In different ways, different sacrifices sure, but nonetheless, I’m involved in Majisti in a way I have not been in any previous jobs.

I can’t say for sure if this is only because we’re friends though, but in my mind, if someone accepts to work for a start up, there has got to be this motivation and drive behind him.

Making Sense Of My Ramblings

That is a lot of words to basically say three things:

  • Be clear with each other. Talk a lot. About everything.
  • Be a team. Work together. Yes, one of you is the boss, but try to put that hat on as little as possible.
  • Stop worrying. If someone accepted to work with you knowing full well what you expect and where the business currently stand, then no x or y does not bother him.

Of course this is only what happened with Steven and me. Will it work for you? I can’t know, but it’s at least food for thought.