4 Tips For Joining A Startup
Imagine this scenario: You’ve worked for a company for a long time, but you’re ready to make a pivot. You put in your two weeks and begin thinking about what’s next for your career. Later, you start interviewing with several companies for a new role and find a company that appreciates what you have to offer.
However, there’s one new factor to consider. Your last company was a large organization with decades of experience and a lot of name recognition. This new company is a year-old startup you’ve never heard of before. What should you do? How do you know whether this startup is worth joining or whether you’re potentially making one of the worst professional decisions of your life?
There are countless blogs and resources that offer advice to startup entrepreneurs. However, many of these same entrepreneurs built their own startups after joining an influential startup early in their careers. What is some actionable advice for someone joining a startup with no prior startup experience? Here are six tips for joining a startup.
Crunch The Numbers
There are all sorts of different startups out there, hiring people to try and help shape their company from the ground floor. Some startups are well-funded, offering competitive salaries out the gate. Other startups are more frugal but attract talent with high commissions, flexibility, or incredible company culture.
When I say that you should crunch the numbers, I’m not talking about examining the startup’s accounting records. I’m talking about your own personal numbers. If you choose to accept equity instead of a salary, how much do you have in savings? Does it seem like the company values you, and have they been clear about potential growth opportunities? Are you willing to change your lifestyle habits if necessary?
Will you be able to keep up with bills if the startup fails, and how long would your savings last you in the worst-case scenario? Are raises common, and did the startup make it clear that you can be rewarded more for outstanding work? If you meet specific goals, are you eligible for bonuses that make the role more worth your time? All these questions need answers, even if they aren’t set in stone.
It can be tempting to join a startup you’re passionate about, but it can also be incredibly risky. Be honest about the calculations, and figure out how much risk you can tolerate. At the end of the day, you have to consider your financial future, no matter how enticing the opportunity seems.
Find Out About The Founders
You might believe that you’re joining an exciting startup in a niche you’re interested in and are in love with their product. Everyone at the startup also seems very passionate, but you haven’t met the founder yet. When they arrive, you find they don’t seem that approachable. It doesn’t even seem like they care about their employees or the company.
Obviously, this would be concerning. Suddenly, the future you envisioned at the company is now in question. How can you feel fulfilled working at a company where you don’t even like or respect the person who built it? This could have been avoided if you had done some research on the founders. If you can find interviews or podcasts with them (many startup founders do a lot of both), you might get a sense of who they are, what they’re about, and what drives them.
Does this mean that you have to listen to every piece of gossip in the startup community and eye everyone with skepticism? Of course not. However, it does mean that you will want to believe in the company you’re joining and the people building it. If you don’t believe in the founders, there’s a good chance that you’ll be leaving the company before you think you will. If you hit it off with the founders immediately, that’s a sign you’re making the right choice.
Stay Ahead Of The Curve
No matter your role at a startup, you must stay ahead of the curve. It’s easy to say to “stay ahead of the curve” and more difficult to accomplish. It might look like this: thinking about problems others in the startup haven’t anticipated or considered. It might also look like developing out-of-the-box marketing and outreach strategies that haven’t been implemented.
At a startup, you’ll also probably need to be flexible about what you’re doing. You shouldn’t be afraid to try your hand at something that might not be within your specific job responsibilities. You will make mistakes, but there’s also a good chance you’ll be able to shift things at a startup much more than if you worked at a traditional company. Try out new ideas, step outside your role and deliver value, and prove to your bosses that you’re indispensable to the business.
Depending on where you work, “staying ahead of the curve” could mean doing more competitor research, making inroads with potential clients, or finding influencers who could help spread the word about your product or service.
Understand The Business Model
Let’s say that a friend of yours joins a startup. They’re excited about the news, and the next month, you grab a drink with him to celebrate his new job. You ask him: “So, the startup…how does it make money exactly?” They look back at you with a blank stare and start stammering about how the company MIGHT make money, but they’re not entirely sure.
Let’s be honest: this would be a red flag, right? How will you help a company grow when you’re not even sure how it’s profitable? Many startups aren’t making a profit, but they likely have a business model in mind where both leadership and investors are confident that it will be profitable shortly.
Sure, there are massive companies that technically aren’t profitable. However, their employees still understand how and why they make money, and you MUST be clear on how this is done at your new startup. If not, you should find another role elsewhere as soon as possible.
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