The startup hype is at its peak and everyone from a fresher to veteran is considering being at a Startup. I come across a story every other day when someone is regretting not joining a startup or starting up him/herself. So if you are someone looking to work for a startup, here are a few things to consider:
The right problem? Is this a rocket ship?
People startup for various reasons. Some to solve a personal problem, some because they were bored of working for others, some for lack of opportunities and some purely to make money. At the end of it, of course everyone wants to be rich. But the rewards only come in the long term (~3-5 yrs). So how do you know in year 1 or 2 that this is the right place to work? The right team to join? One simple old school way is to of course evaluate the problem that this startup is solving. If you think this is a worthy problem to solve and the startup you are considering has a fair chance to be one of the key players in this market, sure go ahead and get on the rocketship!
The right stage of the company? Money?
Companies go through different stages of evolution. Starting with broke to barely alive and seed funded to scaling terribly fast. For each stage, the challenge is different. The startup you are looking to join may be fighting for survival or looking to scale. Depending on what your appetite for adventure is, choose wisely 🙂
Startups often require people to work for low salaries and if you are important enough, some equity too. My mantra has generally been to not give equity in exchange of survival cash. So do not accept a ridiculously low salary just because you are getting equity (unless you are part of founding team or very early).
Most startups fail and even out of the ones which survive, very few manage to give a rich returns for ESOP that employees hold. So as the company revenue grows, it is not uncommon for the startup to give a raise more than once in a year. So talk to the founders openly about money and ESOP, have clarity. You may not be committed ESOP on day one, and that is fine. But don’t take a vague promise of ESOP, if it is committed, number of shares and its weightage should be told to you immediately.
The startup may be a rocketship in the right sector and you may be in a position to help it thrive. But do you get along well with the founders? Do you trust them? Would you enjoy working with them? A lot of tough times would be spent making this company work, you better be in with people who you can tolerate. Yes I use the word tolerate, because it won’t be smooth sail all across, you just need to have enough to stick along. Read what they write, stalk them on social media and get a feel of who they are. Of course, meet them in person.
Alignment with what you want to do?
Just because a startup is going to be big and you get along with the founders, may not be all the reason to join in. What is your inspiration? Do you feel for solving this problem as much? A good reason for not doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you is the fact that it becomes difficult to keep doing it when times are tough. On that note, you would want to read – How Not to Die by Paul Graham.
Cultural fit is spoken about a lot when it comes to startups. Cultural fit doesn’t come from having a fridge stocked with beer or a party every saturday night with your startup colleagues. Cultural fit comes from intent. I have seen startups of all sizes and colours. Ones who want to fudge numbers to get funded, ones who would lie to get customers, ones who would want to run three businesses at once, ones who would want to not give up their day jobs to work, ones who will copy everything the competitor does, ones who would invest heavily in growing people & the ones who will just hire new people.
You will see all of these succeeding. You need to figure what you care about and go for it. A face to face meeting is great before joining a startup. You will spend most of your work life at a workplace, you better work with people you like and respect.
Some more notes:
- Try being a pain killer and not a vitamin. A specialist may be better than a generalist, but you may have to begin with a generalist kind of role. Everyone wears multiple hats in the initial days, the work gets divided as you grow
- A lot of startups don’t know what they are hiring for, try to get specifics from them or at least clear idea of what could be possible areas where you can work in coming months
- Don’t believe in the media image the startup has, go and do your due diligence
Also read – Avoid these mistakes when applying to a startup!