I get asked this question a lot.
My usual answer is “It depends… It depends on you and what you want“.
There are advantages & disadvantages of working for a startup. Working at a Startup is not for everyone. It depends on your personality, your career goals, your income goals, etc.
Let’s look at both sides of the coin.
In this first part of this series “Should I Work for a Startup?“ – we will examine the positives/ advantages of working for a Startup. In the second part, we will explore the disadvantages of getting a job at a Startup.
Definition of a Startup
Before we begin, let’s clarify what exactly a Startup is. There are multiple definitions of a startup. For instance companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, Uber are still considered Startups in many circles. I would not consider them a startup – most companies in the billion-dollar startup category average more than 1000 employees with lots of funding, multiple board members – most of them have weathered the uncertainty phase.
So for this article -my definition of a startup is different
- Young company
- Less than 3 Years Old
- Less than 25 Employees
Here are some of the advantages of working for a Startup.
1. You will Learn a Lot
Traditional corporations operate in structured silos or departments. Every department has its functions & within each department, each individual/team will have their responsibilities. However, in a startup you will have multiple responsibilities, you will be forced to wear multiple hats, you will usually work outside the scope of your job description.
This will force you to learn a lot. You will be exposed to more ideas, more opportunities. You will also get more visibility. Everyone in the organization includes the Founders, CEO will know who you are and what you do.
A salesperson for a startup usually dabbles into some marketing, some market research, and some product development. Since the teams are usually small in a startup, you will interact with people with multiple skill-sets. This will accelerate your growth and learning.
A friend of mine just started working as a Marketing Intern for a young tech startup. He is responsible for Lead Generation & Inbound Marketing. However, daily, he interacts with the sales staff, the executives, and even the product development teams. He is expanding his horizons by learning multiple skill-sets. Alternatively in a traditional corporation, where everything is structured he would not get the opportunity to learn about other job functions.
2. Camaraderie & Teamwork
As mentioned before, most traditional corporations work in silos. And each silo has its agenda & goal. In my experience, most departments are more concerned about their goals as opposed to the goals of the organization and the customers. I have seen scenarios where the sales department hates marketing; marketing hates sales; operations hates sales; Sales hates Finance, and so on.
Most startups operate in the opposite way – you are forced to interact with other teams & departments. Sometimes, your job functions intertwine. As a result, you are working in a cohesive team spirit most of the time. There is a sense of togetherness.
There is an underlying sense of ownership towards the organization and the customers. Everyone works together to achieve the best desired result. There is a shared sense of pride.
In many cases, you build a long-lasting business & personal relationships with your early-stage colleagues.
3. Potential to Be Rich
Notice that I use the word “Potential”. However, this benefit is hard to ignore. We are talking about money here. Although most early-stage startups may not offer you attractive Health and Dental benefits, they do provide their early employees with the option to be part-owners or stock owners.
However, do not assume that every startup Founder will provide you with stock options as soon as you are hired. This is something to be negotiated by you, the candidate.
Realistically, not all startups make it to this level. Most startups don’t survive past the first few years – however, this benefit (stock ownership) has tremendous upside potential. If you are lucky to be part of the right startup at the right time – you might become filthy-rich.
4. Sense of Ownership
We just talked about the potential to be rich (once again this is not a get-rich-quick scheme & not a guarantee) – however, the intangible benefit of working at a startup is the sense of ownership you get.
For me, this is the most exciting part of working for a startup.
Imagine being the team that built the Mac when it first came out; or being part of the Tesla team when it was first introduced to the market. Or being part of the WhatsApp team that got acquired by Facebook.
Most people do not get this opportunity to be part of something they built. You can feel it, you can touch it, use it, and appreciate the personal ownership. You are in the middle of all the action.
5. Upward Mobility
Susan Wojcicki was one of the early employees of Google at a post of Software Engineer. Google was incorporated & initially run out of her garage which she rented out to Larry Page and Sergey Brin. She was employee# 18 at Google. After wearing multiple hats at Google, she is now the CEO of YouTube.
Many CEOs – Steve Ballmer, Marrisa Mayer, Sundar Pichai have been in similar scenarios. They were early-stage employees. They worked their way up and were able to reach the top faster than what would have taken them working for a traditional corporation.
This is the case with most startups. The upward mobility and the visibility you get in a startup is very difficult to get in a traditional corporation. In most corporations, there are structured hierarchies and promotions could be tenure-based.
Startups favor meritocracy. This means the more value you can deliver for the startup the faster you get promoted. This gives you the foundation to put your career on the fast track.
In summary, the benefits of working for an early-stage Startup are as follows:
- Learning and Skill Development
- Financial Incentives
- Sense of Ownership
- Enhanced Team Spirit
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will examine the disadvantages of working for a Startup.