My Reflections after being in a MarTech Startup — Affable.ai

Jao Ming
7 min readJun 6, 2021
Source: https://www.affable.ai/

Introduction

Honestly, I have never thought that I would grab the opportunity to work in a startup. I have always been a pretty conservative person and usually enjoy stability and consistency in my life. Thinking that I would be the kind that would stick to larger companies throughout my career paths; from internships to full-time employment. And when everyone around me was talking about the fast-paced and hectic nature of startups, I thought to myself, “wow that sounds pretty intense. guess I’ll stick to my SMEs and MNCs”.

However, Affable.ai changed my mind.

I had made the decision to graduate a semester early due to COVID-19. With a surplus of time than I had anticipated, I decided to look for something interesting on the job market. That is when I decided to give startups a shot and with the help of SGInnovate, I got into Affable.ai.

If you are interested in finding out what they do, go ahead and check out their website! If not, here is a quick summary of who they are and what they do. Affable.ai is a deep-tech startup in the influencer marketing scene. They created a powerful data-driven platform to help companies find relevant influencers, manage campaigns and more! All in all, they enable and empower companies to make more well-informed decisions on their next influencer marketing campaigns.

Startup vs. Non-startup

The first thing that stood out to me when I first entered the company was the fact that I knew what everyone in the team looked like and what their names were. Albeit something simple, that was not something that I experienced in my previous internships. It was usually normal to know everyone in your team or department, but knowing that I knew everyone in the company was just something different for me. A good kind of different though. In an odd way, things felt a lot more personal. It was as if there was a blanket of shared responsibility on everyone. Which made me feel more driven to perform and much more prideful in my work.

Something that came along with being more prideful of my work was how much more impactful and important my work felt. In terms of scale and proportion, my contributions felt more recognised at a startup. It was something I anticipated before entering a startup but it is a whole other feeling when you see something that you worked on getting deployed onto your company’s core product. I had not thought about how the flat management hierarchy correlated with the degree of impact.

I mentioned above regarding my impression of startups and how they are fast-paced and hectic. However, I feel that non-startups are also as fast-paced albeit in a different way. Bigger companies tend to have more red tapes, and for good reason. But this translates to having more requirements that need to be satisfied before getting something done. Which consequently means that there is usually a lot of preparation that needs to be done before moving on from checkpoint to checkpoint in a project timeline. Thus giving the sense of rush within a project. On the flip side, startups are fast-paced because they are able to clear checkpoints in a project timeline a lot quicker. Due to the flatter hierarchy, a simple slack message or call with my supervisor or someone from the management team would have done the trick. I would have my strategy for my task at each checkpoint evaluated and simply move on.

Importance of Supervisors

The invaluable experience that I got from my stint at Affable could almost solely be contributed by my supervisor. Teaching and imparting knowledge is not the easiest thing to do. And it is also not easy for someone who already has a part to play in the company to take time off to teach. I am therefore extremely thankful that things worked out the way it did.

What I enjoyed about the learning process during my stint is that most of the shortcomings that I had were quickly addressed with constructive feedback. Not only that but there was an understanding that it is okay to not fix myself instantly. This really allowed me to reflect on my actions better and come to a better understanding of why and how I can do things better. Before this, I would have felt so much pressure to change myself immediately to prevent making the same mistake. I would probably also have felt pretty affected if I did let one of these mistakes happen again. This entire cycle was not healthy and just generally stressful. Something else that I also enjoyed was how effectively feedback was taken. Being a curious soul, I had wanted to find out more about what my other colleagues were doing and what they have learnt from their projects. As I told my supervisor about this, she quickly arranged for weekly ‘Knowledge Sharing’ sessions for the data science team. Truly fantastic! And within that short stint, I am sure that the way I code and think of coding, and problem-solving has changed dramatically. I would even say that my thinking has been fine-tuned (pun intended) to more real-world data science problems.

After going through all of that, I started reflecting on the importance of supervisors and mentors. The first thing that came to mind were those career aspect ranking forms and how I would now rank a good supervisor over the brand name of the company. Although I believe that are both aspects important in their own ways, I just feel that having a good supervisor would be better in the current stage of my career path. This led me to consider how to ensure that my learning experience will be in good hands. And challenged me to include supervisor assessment questions in my full-time job interviews.

Remote Working

Most companies over the globe adopted remote working when the pandemic hit. Affable was no exception. Although this experience is not something that is unique to me, it is still a first for me. The benefits of remote working hit me first. I did not have to spend time travelling to and fro an office. Freeing up a significant amount of time to work out or pursue my hobbies. And I would have a working space that I am definitely comfortable with. I was excited about work! As time went on, these benefits proved to be helpful in ensuring work-life balance for me. Of course, coupled with good management, I was able to properly distinguish time for work and time for life. Great as things seemed to be, there were some experiences that I did not anticipate to be as notable as I expected.

Getting too comfortable with some of my work habits is one of them. One of my work habits involves being persistent at trying out a particular solution. Usually, when working under some pressure, I would feel the need to iterate through solutions more quickly. Instead of harping over small details of a solution that might not lead to effective gains. However, as I got more comfortable working, the intervals for trying out solutions slowly extended. This was something that I definitely did not expect to have noticed.

Something else that most people might resonate with is the socialising aspect of remote working. I already expected communication via Zoom to be different from a physical meet up. Especially after reading so many comments about this particular aspect on forums like Reddit, I did not hesitate but to manage my expectations for it. But after experiencing it first hand, it is evident that there is something about physical meet ups that helps with the chemistry.

Having said all of this, the reason why this aspect is notable is because of the way I experienced it at Affable. While I was there, I brought up wanting to get to know my colleagues beyond their job title. My supervisor then acted on this feedback and set up weekly ‘Get-to-Know’ sessions. Each session involving my team and someone from a different department in the company. We were then able to learn more about them as individuals and even take life and professional advice from them. What made these sessions extra interesting was the cultural diversity of the company. With quite a few employees coming from various parts of the world, talking to them about their culture and way of life was always exciting. In some sense, getting to know my colleagues felt like a mini getaway from Singapore.

Conclusion

Out of all my thoughts, something that I personally enjoyed out of the whole experience was how quick feedback was exchanged. As a fresh graduate, I have a lot to learn about my industry and what it is actually like to be in a professional working environment. With this fast exchange in feedback, I found myself iterating my working habits and perceptions towards greater standards much more quickly. This is definitely also coupled with the fact that I had a mentor that had vast experience in the field that I was in.

On the other hand, something that I found hard to adjust to was socialising online. It is not that Affable did not do enough to improve the online socialising experience. But rather, it is hard to replace is physical meetups and networking sessions. It is also a personal preference of mine to be able to connect with people face to face (physically).

All in all, fulfilling is the best word I can think of to describe my experience at a startup. I took away so many professional and personal experiences from this stint. Even reflecting on them after it has come to an end and learning new things about myself and what I want for my life and career as a result of this. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be part of an amazing team in Affable.ai and I have no doubt that they will be very successful in the future. If you are interested in influencer marketing in any way, please do check them out! I am fulfilled and looking forward to my next experience as a data scientist. Onwards and upwards!

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