My startup journey began way back in 1999 when I joined a small design automation startup. I’ve worked at large companies and many more startups since and I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve also seen many professionals, some of them dear friends, struggle when they move from large companies to startups, unable to cope with the work culture or the pace. I’m hoping this piece (and more in this series) will help other seasoned professionals decide, and better prepare for startup life.
“If you don’t love fires, don’t join a startup – Brian Norgard”
For many folks, there’s a certain glamour in working for a startup. It’s only skin deep. Some others think that they can make more money by working at a startup, which can be true. However, the quantum of money you can make depends on the company’s current stage. The most compelling reason is when the role you play in your current workplace is simply not enough. Either the learning has stopped or you’ve hit a ceiling on the impact you can have from where you are. Or perhaps you simply want to try something completely different. Moving within the organization isn’t always possible. While some organizations embrace their employees trying their hand at different roles; others may not encourage it, and for good reason. The question then is whether the remedy is joining a startup or moving to another large organization. You should move to a startup only if there’s a real value you can bring to them and they can bring to your professional life.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Is the role right for you?
- Is the startup right for you?
- Is the environment right for you?
- Is the money right for you?
Let’s talk about the role being offered first.
The role is perhaps (or rather should be) the primary driver for your move to a startup. Get a clear understanding of what is expected of you. At senior levels, you are required to lay out the strategy, build the team/competency and execute. Not everything can be spelled out, but you should still get a good sense of the direction to take or the higher level objective to achieve. A portion of your compensation may be tied to specific milestones, so having this understanding will ensure you focus your energies right. Balancing the deliverables expected of you with potential learning opportunities will make the role more meaningful. A startup hires an individual not just for their current skills, but also for what else they could learn and contribute. If that aligns with your own needs then it’s the icing on the cake.
Additionally, every startup role has some level of individual contribution assigned which stems from the need to optimize resources and capital. If you are used to only managing a team in your current role, think again as a startup will often require you to own some deliverable too. Just because you have a certain title, do not assume that you won’t need to jump into the trenches. Titles in a startup are fluid; they can change rapidly so it’s unwise to equate them to those in large corporate environments. You may actually have far more authority and responsibility than what your title reflects.
Hence more than anything, focus on the role you plan to take at the startup you are considering. If you feel excited about it, other things will usually work out. In my next post I’ll put down thoughts on evaluating if the startup, it’s environment and money make sense for you or not.