When I joined Dropbox in the fall of 2012, it was by far the smallest company I’d ever worked for — about 200 people. BCG (a global firm with 6,000 consulting staff) and MegaFon (a Russian telco with 30,000 employees) were what I’d seen before. Within 3 years, I saw Dropbox grow 7x. When I was ready for my next adventure, I had the 200 people anchor in my mind and was curious to experience a smaller environment. What I didn’t expect was exactly how much smaller it would be. In October 2015, I became Clara’s 15th employee.


When you’ve got only 14 co-workers, you get to learn all of their names the first week and remember those names the next week. You also get to know their quirks and passions and, fortunately or not, pick up their mannerisms.


At Clara, I’ve been able to do some of my best work, and I attribute a lot of that to the size of the company.


    • I helped figure out a process to source, screen and onboard contractors globally at scale, and at 1/3 of the cost.


    • Together with Engineering, we moved our contractors from hourly to per-transaction incentive system in 4 weeks without major incident. This increased our human productivity by 70%.


    • We saved >50% of costs in 4 months.


Here’s why I’ve been loving the small startup environment:


    • We’re able to impact our metrics by dozens of percent at once, and that’s a potent drug.


    • There is no red tape, no 2-hour long cross-functional meetings, and no continuous strategic planning. The ratio of “productive work” to “time spent trying to get to productive work” is extremely high. Approval from “Finance” takes 5 minutes. There’s no HR.


    • We’re focused on pushing things forward. When something doesn’t go as planned, we acknowledge it, try to understand it, and move to plan B. Self-attribution of mistakes is the norm.


    • We make waffles in the office on Wednesday mornings and do team brunch on Fridays.


Here are a few peculiarities of a smaller environment that I’ve experienced viscerally:


    • If you don’t like how something is done, fix it. Really. Organize help if you can’t or don’t want to do it alone. There’s no department worrying about how to feed you well. You actually need to put the time into ordering stuff from Costco. Free bonus: you get what you wanted to get.


    • Make sure you know what goal you’re trying to hit. Because there’s so little process at an early-stage company, it may be tempting to plow a lot of time into “making onboarding better” or some such thing. These kinds of projects will take any amount of time you give them. Instead, set a goal that can be either achieved or not, such as “improve the success rate of onboarding by X% and shorten it by Y days.” When you’ve hit that goal, or determined that a different goal makes more sense and have hit that one, move on to the next project.


    • Work on things from different disciplines and functions. Whatever needs getting done needs to be done. Larger companies allow for less flexibility with this.


    • Spend quality time with folks around you. Learning how to eat Cheetos with chopsticks and going to a late showing of the most recent Marvel movie are great with a group of people you like.


    • Enjoy your ability to impact things and crazy pace while it lasts. If the small startup you’re at is on its way to greatness, it will likely become a large company within 4–5 years. There’s a reason why larger organizations need process, bureaucracy, layers of management and all those good things.


I’m super excited to help bring a lot of this current feel with us as we grow to 200 employees!


At Clara, Olga runs Product Operations. She takes care of the human and operational sides of the service, contributing to customer experience, contractor experience, efficiency and product feedback loop.


Clara Labs is looking for Software Engineers, Machine Learning Scientists, Product Designers and Marketers. Apply here: https://claralabs.com/about/