Western New York is full of innovative people, blazing new trails as they work to build a better Buffalo. Forge Buffalo is teaming up with our friends at 43North, Aleron, Be In Buffalo and TechBuffalo to create a blog series celebrating a select group of Western New York Trailblazers.
Graham Vosburg is the Director of Digital Marketing at 43North portfolio company Kickfurther, a company that connects growing product businesses to a community of individuals that can help them raise funds to enable larger, more cost-effective inventory production runs with their manufacturers.
We connected with Graham to learn why he decided to join a startup, the qualities needed to thrive at a startup, advice people looking to join a startup, and what he likes most about the startup life.
Tell us about your decision to move from an established company to a startup. Was it challenging? What was the transition like?
The challenge in hopping from a century-old company—where it’d be natural to settle into a “safe” and stable job—to a startup was giving up the security of a tried-and-true business for one that had lots left to prove. When you make that kind of transition, you think about things like, “Can this company compete with bigger players in the space? Are there adequate resources to see growth in the future? Is the right leadership in place to guide this company through what comes next?” Before making the switch, I made sure to ask tough questions about the past, present, and future. I talked with people on the team other than the person interviewing me. I considered whether the position presented me with a chance to grow and develop. Normally, I tend to lean toward “safe” decisions, but it became clear to me that joining Kickfurther was an excellent opportunity for me. I knew that I’d be joining a team that had already planned its growth and reckoned with its weaknesses. Kickfurther gave me the ability to test my skills, elevate my career, and quickly observe the difference that my work could make. Joining a young company may mean there isn’t a training guide for every challenge, role, and responsibility you walk into, but don’t let that dissuade you. I’m naturally someone that easily adapts and can patiently work around what others might find strange, so jumping into a company that was in the process of developing a lot of its own onboarding processes and procedures wasn’t an issue for me.
What qualities/talents do you think people need to thrive at a startup?
I liken it to being an entrepreneur yourself within your new role. Can you craft detailed plans for the immediate future and plan big plans for future growth? You’ll quickly learn that your default should shift to “I can” or “I should” versus waiting for direction. When you think about the tremendous long-term potential of the company, it becomes easy to push harder toward a goal. Startups don’t have the long chain of command or inertia that a big corporation normally would, which is significant when quick decisions need to be made. But you also need to be adaptable. There will be lots of tasks that fall outside of your job description or responsibilities that lack the glitz and glamor that your title may infer. You need to be able to realize that the well-being of the entire company is of paramount importance. Having the ability to roll up your sleeves is crucial because sometimes, that’s just what the job demands. Working at Kickfurther has been so fun, so exciting, and so rewarding because I’m able to get involved in different areas of the company, even though they may not necessarily be in my wheelhouse.
What tips do you have for someone considering working for a startup?
For me, if my job were to disappear tomorrow, I’d realize that I’ve gained more experience and opportunities across multiple skill sets than I would’ve gotten at any other company. Becoming more well-rounded wasn’t something that crossed my mind when I was deciding whether to join the Kickfurther team, but my overall versatility has become evident. Startups will give you the chance to hone your skills in a broad range of areas. You’ll almost undoubtedly leave a startup as a more adaptable professional than when you started. I realize, though, that startups aren’t for everyone. Every company has its uniqueness and nuances, and startups are no different. If you’re interested in joining this kind of business, ask questions about culture, about what success looks like, and about how your position will play into the prosperity of the company. If your prospective teammates can articulate where they’re going and how they’ll get there by leveraging specific numbers and details to prove it, this is a great sign that the startup is on the road to success.
What surprised you most about your new position at Kickfurther?
I was incredibly surprised by how quickly new ideas and initiatives can be pursued if they have the potential to drastically improve the business. It hasn’t been uncommon for us to radically shift our short-term priorities if we uncover an area that can increase the strength of our organization. We don’t need to push decisions through the endless proverbial red tape you might find elsewhere to get approval; at Kickfurther, great ideas get put into action in no time. I didn’t even realize how much autonomy I had in my role until a year into my role. Had I not taken this position, I wouldn’t have uncovered the many areas that I can contribute to professionally. If I’d been working in a normal 9-to-5 position at any other company, it would’ve taken me years to learn what I know now about my professional self.
What do you like most about working at a startup?
At Kickfurther, we all share a collective desire to grow. All of our teams are always working toward a shared goal. I’ve also enjoyed increased responsibilities in my day-to-day line of work and like the heavy emphasis that is placed on strategic planning. Our company leaders have shown that they’re open-minded in all aspects of the workplace, which is also a huge plus.
What are you most thankful for?
I’m blessed to work alongside colleagues and leaders that encourage, inspire, and support one another. I’ve always loved the opportunity to affect real growth from my position. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an experimenter and an imaginer at heart, and having the opportunity to embrace my creative side has been awesome. At Kickfurther, we have high standards that keep us grounded and hold us accountable for our actions. Our leadership team is trustworthy, intelligent, and focused on integrity. They are the ones who set the example and embrace our commitment to excellence as an organization.
Want more WNY Trailblazer content? Check out Cloudinsyte Co-founder Kate Huber’s interview with Be In Buffalo here and stay tuned for more Western New York Trailblazer content from us and our partners at 43North, Be In Buffalo, and TechBuffalo!