Do you find yourself working in a tech start-up and wish you could find the words to explain to your friends and family what it’s really like? Don’t worry, we’ve got this.

If you’ve watched the show Silicon Valley, you’ll have a fairly good understanding of what startup life is about. The hustle for funding, the late nights, the mountains of pizza. But there’s a lot more to working in a tech startup than funny one-liners and geek jokes. The stakes are high for everyone involved, but that in itself is part of the appeal.

So let’s put the Hollywood take aside for now and take a look at what it’s really like.

The culture is kinda… cultish

There’s a reason for this. Working for a startup is a huge risk. Unless the CEO has a veritable Smaug’s hoard of funding stashed away, there isn’t a helluva lot of money going around. This means teams are small and extremely dedicated. It’s the exact opposite of a big enterprise. Everyone is in it together, working side by side and doing whatever they can to make it work. This willing-to-try-anything attitude often has messy results, which is why having clearly defined goals is extremely important. But there is an upside to hiring enthusiastic people with a can-do attitude.

They’re committed and they really, really believe in the product and your vision. Like, they have faith in you, even without the fringe benefits.

And if the cult analogy wasn’t enough… Most startups have dedicated evangelists – people whose role is to spread the brand vision and attract early adopters to the product. You’ll find most of the staff are evangelists too, and if the product is that awesome, the clients will follow suit.

The hours are super long

This is where Silicon Valley got it right. Any new business requires a lot of time and effort to succeed. In tech startups especially, developers work long hours to get the product in ship shape. And they do it for the challenge, not for the money.

At Zailab, our staff have an ownership mentality. Our guys believe in the product, because they see it as their product. Working in a startup requires a lot of sacrifice. But they’re happy to be there. This is why most tech startups have chill rooms, cafeterias, ping-pong tables and, yes, mountains of pizza.

We know the team works hard and make sure they’re comfortable while they’re work. And you know what? Morale is usually sky high. Because aside from being really fun places to work, most startups aim to be more than a home away from home – for many of the staff, they are home.

But it’s also super-fun

All work and no play make for a very dull existence. Here at Zailab we play as hard as we work. Whether it’s blazing a trail across Africa in our ZaiTruck, scaling Mount Kilimanjaro or partying in the desert at AfrikaBurn, our team let off steam by going on crazy adventures with our maverick CEO Nour Addine Ayyoub.

You’d think that the last thing anyone would want after a hectic week would be hanging out with their colleagues all weekend long. Not at a startup. Wanna know what a typical DevOps team gets up to after hours? They LAN Counter Strike. And eat more pizza.

How do we rein in the chaos?

By being super agile. Agile culture puts values and service over rules and procedures, and collaboration and openness over management and titles. Teams are empowered to define goals and make decisions, which ties in with that ownership mentality we mentioned earlier. The Agile approach works great with smaller teams as it allows for effective cross-skilling and collaboration and lets you shift gears quickly when things change (which they inevitably do).

At Zailab, we also combine kanban with Stories on Board to manage our two-week sprints. Work is divided into stories. The team can start working on whatever the next highest priority item is, but only tackles one story at a time to ensure it gets completed fully. This gives you a visual, real-time status of what everyone is working on. It’s totally transparent, helps to eliminate bottlenecks and ensures your road map objectives are met.

You’ll spend a small fortune on Post-It notes though.

So, what’s it really like in a tech start-up? It’s hard work but also super-fun. The people are nuts (so is the CEO) and there is absolutely no better feeling in the world than working towards something you really believe in.