Whenever we talk about startups, it is often only about entrepreneurs, investors, mentors or accelerators. What we fail to look at is what the startup is made up of- it’s team – the people who invest the same amount of time, effort and energy as the founder of the business itself, for the company to succeed. So, today let us look at what it means to be a startup employee, why should one join or not join a startup, the benefits, the pros and cons and more.
Working at a startup is hard. It’s a rollercoaster ride with its own share of ups and downs. Adding to that, a majority of startups fail, meaning the lows can be unimaginable.
There are a multitude of reasons why people join startups, but most people believe it’s to do with the upside of making lots of money through equity plans. This is probably the biggest myth for startup employees. So the question you should primarily ask yourself, before joining a startup, is: Why should I join a startup if it’s not for the money?
Once you completely rule out the money factor, people’s opinions for joining startups diverge. For some people, it’s the thrill of building something from the ground up, for others it’s the prospect of taking on a wide range of responsibilities. Whatever it is for you, it is not a matter to be taken lightly.
If your main motivation is to get in early, so that when the company goes big you will be one of the the people on top with a lot of money then buckle up because it is going to be one long and treacherous journey. The risks outweigh the benefits at a startup. You will be exposed to the ugly truth as the company figures its own path to survival. At times you will feel like you’ve just wasted the last 6 months, year or 2 years making something that is doomed to fail. And you will get discouraged. But unlike the founders, you are not nearly as invested in the mission, so you will quit.
The startup world is perfect for those who want to carve their own niche
Being in a large corporation often leads to your roles and responsibilities being boxed in and strictly defined. If you are confident enough to stand up and carve your own niche, the startup life can be really exciting and rewarding. If you’re not, then you might feel a bit out of your comfort zone.
Many feel that the hands on experience one gets by working for a startup is unparalleled and cannot be matched by working in a conventional organisation. It includes getting your hands dirty in various different ways in your discipline, as well as gaining exposure to all areas of the business. If you are a technical person, chances are you will end up doing not only everything technical, but also see a bit of what the founders do – fundraising, sales, marketing and more. However, one should be ready to face setbacks as working in a startup does not guarantee instant success.
Pros and Cons that one may go through while working for a startup
- Lack of structure due to inexperienced leaders, unclear roles and procedures
- Low compensation or few or no benefits, difficulty in attaining equity
- Long working hours with few holidays, no work-life balance
- Uncertainty or instability – job insecurity, not knowing what the future of the company holds
- Informal work environment – open-mindedness and informal atmosphere
- Flat hierarchy – no big boss giving orders that everyone must follow
- Flexibility and freedom – setting your own goals, flexible work hours
- It’s all brand new – trying out a variety of roles and tasks
- More responsibility – working with senior management and making impactful decisions, building your own structures
- A great place to get hands-on experience
- Steep learning curve – learn by doing and many opportunities to grow
Avoid a startup, if:
- you can’t work without things being well organized
- your priorities are a good salary
- you believe in a good work-life balance
- you can’t stand uncertainty
Risk of joining a startup
Working at a startup can be risky. The pay and benefits can be less than the average market rate. The CEO might be twenty-five years old and learning on the job. Venture capitalists and bankers might be annoyingly in your way. More conservative friends may wonder why you are wasting your talent. But if you are ready to deal with the risk or reward equation and build a career around the experience, it will pay off.
Ideally, you should spend some time doing the due diligence of the company itself. Make sure its a compelling business idea and a great founding team with top class investors. There is no doubt that the risk factor will diminish in proportion to level of exposure you will get while working at the startup. The number of different hats that you will have to don, the challenges you will be exposed to absolutely outweighs working in a larger company. So, what you should focus on while thinking about joining a startup is about how much experience you will gain from it, which will further propel you to the next level in your career.