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The life (and death) of a startup.

At just a mere 24-years-old I have already been with a company long enough to see its rise and fall. And no, this was not a mom-and-pop small business, but rather a venture backed by literally millions of dollars. When I joined, it was meant to be the start of a new chapter in a new region — a huge turning point for any company.

Less than a year later, I was laid off and the entire region shut down, followed by the short demise of the company. Womp womp.

Rather than be bitter or disheartened, I realize that in those 9 months I learned a lot and have much to share from the experience especially to friends and colleagues who maybe haven’t been through something so shocking in their young professional careers.

Less than a year ago, I was offered the opportunity to join a mission-driven startup that had a goal of changing the food system by making local food more accessible. I mean… what the f*** that’s so cool?! You mean I could be paid a decent salary and still get to do really meaningful work? I could be a part of building something with the potential to literally change the way our country eats? Sign me the hell up!

This was a huge jump from my previous work at non-profits working as a Community Organizer on advocacy campaigns. Case in point, walking in on orientation on day one, being handed a brand new (still in the box) MacBook Air and also being told, oh yeah, you have unlimited PTO. 

But those perks came with challenges. What are you supposed to do with all of that PTO? There’s a team that supposedly works on a project but my team is being asked to help. When do I ask for a raise when that happens? How do you balance goals and metrics with the looming reality that the asks of our funders are unrealistic? Not to mention being part of a remote region which had it’s own challenges when it came to directives and growth.

If it sounds like a little bit of a mess, sure, you could say that. But each of those situations was something that as part of a small, intimate team, each individual person had to contribute to. These are facets of organizations that very few people at my stage in a professional career see or experience.

That, my friends, is professional growth at its finest.

And now you might be asking, “ok Breanne, that’s all great but now you don’t have a job. Startups sound really risky.”

They are. And I’m not sure I really understood to what extent until in the span of days it all disappeared. But looking back on the work I completed, I’m glad I took the risk to see first hand how my efforts had direct contributions. I have a feeling that at larger organizations, that’s really hard to say.

Also, the curse of being mission-driven was that our goal was huge. I remember meeting one of my clients for the first time and explaining our model to her and she was said, “That sounds too good to be true. Where’s the catch?” Through learning how to make local food more attainable, I definitely saw some ups and downs but consistently stood behind what we tried to create. The catch in this case of course was that changing the way people buy food is really hard. And as someone who began trying to do that with her university several years ago, my conversations with the general public were humbling. I can see and relay the struggles of our food-system from farmworker to our public health epidemic, but there are a lot of people who are not ready to change and the process of trying to make those purchases easier still has a long way to go.

Of course I’m a little nervous but mostly excited about what my next step will be. Again, being the youngest person in my office, I have a little bit of a different outlook than my colleagues who have families. Truly, the hardest thing about this situation is knowing that our Seattle Office had a ridiculously amazing culture and as my friend David said and I agree, I’m not sure we’ll ever find anything exactly like it. 

But that’s kind of the point. Growth isn’t taking one comfortable situation and trying to replicate it every opportunity you can. Growth isn’t walking into work every day and absolutely loving your job. Growth isn’t a 9-5, Monday-Friday gig.

Growth is doing everything necessary to try and make something really cool happen and when presented with an amazing (but terrifying!) opportunity to do just that, I really hope you do. Because even when things end in a screeching halt, fiery crashing doom, you’ll look back and see that even a month, two months, six months, made you a different professional than you ever were before and what you built, though fleeting, was incredibly beautiful.

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