3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Work For a Startup

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It might look exciting and futuristic on the various television shows that portray startup life. There’s talk about cloud architecture and machine learning and ROI’s and CPM’s and many other acronyms. But there’s alot more. Much more.

There are things that are broken, and things that don’t make sense. There are elevated emotions (sometimes) and to top it all off, there isn’t that much money left in the companies business account, so your job may be on the line within the next 6 months.

There are many reasons to want to work for a startup, there are. But we can’t get into the good without going over the bad first. So here are my top 3 reasons why you might want to reconsider that next job offer from your local early stage company that claims to be the next unicorn.

Looking for longevity?

It’s no secret that startups have a notoriously high failure rate. Those that receive any form of investment funding are typically running on a fixed timeline. For example, if a startup gets $250,000 (as an example) in an early investment round, it is safe to assume that this will not go into hiring full-time employees with a 6 figure salary.

More than likely it will go into marketing and technical costs. Every now and then though, a startup will decide to hire, at least temporarily, for a vital position and this could be you.

It’s definitely a great opportunity to see what an early stage startup looks like, as long as you realize that job security is not on the menu. From my experience working with startups, 4–6 months is the average window for a hire before the company has to go back into financial recovery mode. This is also why typically most hires are on a short contractual basis. If things go well, then the contract can be renewed.

Having said that, it is important to do your research as well. If a startup just closed on their Series C funding totaling $100 million in fresh funds, then you might have a shot at being an early employee that rides the wave with the company.

In that regard, you might actually benefit vastly by jumping on board early. Though this is not the most common scenario.

Don’t want to stand out

Odds are that if a startup shells out the funds to hire you, it’s because they need your help and fast. They saw your overly-hyped resume and fantastic headshots online and realized that this is the person that is going to help save our struggling venture.

Every resource that a startup can afford to get is a huge boon. And that includes your skillsets. This means that you might end up getting more attention that you are used to. You might be in every meeting and you might be asked to work on things that you have never seen.

Don’t worry though. Odds are nobody at this company has worked on this either, so you can’t really mess it up too much. All of this to say, that you are important to a startup. It might be just a job to you, but to the 2 or 3 people behind scenes running around frantically, it is their entire lives. And to the potential investors on the sidelines, this could also be a huge hit or a huge miss.

This could result in long work days, weekends, early morning standup sessions. You name it. Whatever it takes to move the needle is typically on the line. The biggest challenge with being out in the open and having your work exposed to everyone is in that very same act. The more your work is out there, the more open it is to criticism. Your mistakes will be more noticeable and at some point someone will call you on it.

Most people can’t handle this level of pressure to be honest. I’ve hired interns in the past for my own startup who seemed 110% committed to whatever task sits before them. Only to call in sick at the first ‘big’ task (relative) and never to be heard from again.

And on the other spectrum, I’ve hired interns who showed up early, left late, lead small teams and in their short 3 month tenure worked on pretty useful things. Needless to say, those are the people that I still keep in contact with, even after the startup has closed its doors. I recommend them whenever they request it and I refer positions to them if I find that their skillsets match.

It’s never bad to standout in a crowd. It can sometimes just be uncomfortable. A startup might be a good way to get over that anxiety and fear.

Can’t deal with chaos

As much as you want to keep the drama at home and away from your professional life, when the company is a part of your personal life it will follow you around. That means that every now and then, if you are an employee, you are going to see it.

I’ll say now, I am not a dramatic person. If the office is on fire, odds are my bug out bag is ready by the door ready for the next move. But everyone is allowed to vent at times. That includes other founding members of the startup, investors, employees and customers.

That last one is important and I’ll get it into more down below. But this is where stable large corporate entities differ from startups mainly. They have figured out these points of contention and have created systems to work through each one. If you are lacking supplies for example, you send an email, someone orders the supplies, the company expenses it and it magically appears on your desk at some point.

If you are in a startup, this process probably isn’t high on the priority list. You might tell the CEO about it, they might assure you that they will get on it, and 3 months later your contract is up and you never got your notebook. And typically the same will go for many other aspects of work that most people tend to take for granted. Without the system in place, it simply falls through the cracks.

There is also a chance that there isn’t really much of a project management system in place yet either, or at least not a very strong one. Which means that tasks will get missed, or assigned improperly or ignored completely. I might be making it sound worse than it is. But I assure you, every company goes through the same before they learn how to create proper workflows.

And lastly, customers. If you are a startup, you are going to have bugs in your application. You just are. Even SpaceX had to crash a few barges before figuring out how to land a rocket upright. This means, angry customers. And who will they be calling? Probably one of the founding members, because “costs”.

These calls can either be uneventful, in which case they simply happen in the background without anyone being the wiser. Or they can spark an argument in which case everyone in the tiny cramped office will get to experience it and the resulting tension afterwards.

This is why most companies have customer support systems in place to handle these type of events. It all really comes down to building proper systems in the end.

I love working on startups and working with startups, but they are different than your standard 9 to 5 corporate environments. If you are looking for a way to quickly grow your skills, while not having to worry about losing your job and can’t stand an overly dramatic workspace, then you probably want to steer clear and keep looking elsewhere.

But if you don’t mind the uncertainty and high responsibility that it brings, then you might do just fine.

Written by

Sr. Programmer. Coding blogger. Former startup CTO. Los Angeles native. Future sci-fi author. www.thatsoftwaredude.com

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