Being able to build something you love that has the potential to change the world (whether for good or evil) coupled with the potential to amass some serious wealth is why we are seeing an increasing amount of the workforce jump ship and paddle off to startup land. Corporates are facing the realization that their jobs that were once so safe and secure are actually not. And let’s face it, who wants to wear a suit and tie to work when you can wear an inflatable banana?
Thousands of new startups explode into the international arena every single day. Everyone wants to be part of it. It’s all so shiny and amazing! It is, but don’t let the hype lay a silky veil across your eyes. Step into the real world. Building a successful company is not easy. Don’t be disillusioned with what you read on the old world wide web (what you’re not a billionaire in 6 months?!). With startups comes risk. Being able to comprehend the inherent risks associated with starting a new business is a critical step to deciding whether startup life is for you. So before you tell your boss that you hate your job, that he sucks and that he should look out for you in the Forbes rich list in a few months, I’d consider the following questions:
1) Am I joining a startup or a “startup”?
You need to understand what you’re getting yourself into. When it comes down to it, how much risk are you prepared to take? The term ‘startup’ is thrown around so loosely nowadays that it can refer to a business that opened its doors yesterday or a company that’s been around the block a few times and back again. This can obviously be quite misleading. Are you joining a team of a few people with no proven track record and minimal funding, or a business with a validated model, positive metrics and funding under their belt? The learning spectrum and financial upside will vary enormously depending on the stage of the business.
Imagine what it was like joining Uber in the early days when they were still the new kid on the block. Although the company is still coined a startup, joining the business today would present you with a completely different profesional experience and financial benefit.
2) Why do I want to work at a startup?
Don’t get fazed by the hype. Working at startup doesn’t mean all the bagels you can eat, free healthcare and a water slide in the middle of the office (although wouldn’t that be fun?). We all have different reasons for wanting to work at startup; from loathing current jobs, the opportunity for a supercharged learning experience or thinking we’re going to be lounging on a bed of $100 bills in a few months.
Understanding what is driving you to work at a startup is vital if you want to ever be happy and successful. If you start for the wrong reasons you won’t be sticking around for long.
Join a startup because you believe in and are passionate about what the business is trying to achieve, because the company has great leadership and experienced people you can learn from. Not because you want to get rich quick. You will learn quickly from working at startup that there is a huge divide between the hype and reality.
3) Who am I going to be working with?
Knowing who you’re going to be spending the majority of your precious time with and if you think they are the right fit is a biggie. Have the founders had an exit before? How did they meet? Have they worked together before? Why are they working on this current project? Do they get along? Will I get along with them? Knowing this information beforehand is fundamental as so many startups fail because founders can’t see eye to eye on decisive business issues.
Finding a team with a proven track record who have been there and done it before mitigates your risk as well as gives you the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Make sure you have a strong understanding of the team, their advisors and investors backing the project. If the team doesn’t have past experience that’s not to say you shouldn’t get involved if you really believe in the product and the team.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the team to ask them these questions and to find out the real story. I’ve personally had great experiences but have also heard horror stories from other startup inmates involving unbearable founders, nervous breakdowns and KY jelly.
4) How much cash has the company raised, from which investors and how much runway do they have?
Finding out about who has invested into the company isn’t that difficult with resources such as CrunchBase & Angel List at your disposal. If you aren’t privy to this information then you have the right to ask the founders; how much have they raised to date? Are they planning on raising a follow up round and if so when? Which investors are involved and what value do they bring? Some people might consider these questions a little direct but most businesses are pretty transparent with this information and ultimately it’s your right to ask. Remember you will be dedicating a lot of your time to this startup so you need to make sure the team has a game plan.
5) Am I capable/ready to wear multiple hats?
The earlier in a startups life, the more hats you will be wearing. As there are limitless things to be done and the teams generally small, roles spill over. Especially in small team, you won’t have someone barking in your ear telling you what to do so the responsibility will be on you to get the job done. From fundraising to coding HTML emails to doing the founders laundry, you could be doing it all!
Working in an early stage startup will open your world to a new set of diverse experiences and understanding that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. This is one of the core takeaways from working in this type of environment but it’s not for everyone.
What other questions must be asked before you consider joining a startup?
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Annonymous crowd of people NYC via Shutterstock