We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.
We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.
Are you working in a startup? It might sound tempting: growing a global corporation as a team of five, moving from an office in the founder’s kitchen to a multi-storey headquarters, becoming a dollar millionaire… Or is this impressive picture just a survivorship bias, and working in a startup is sheer madness? What are the advantages of a startup over working in a regular company, and what are some of the disadvantages? Let’s figure it out.
Experience. At the early stage of a startup, the team is small, you will be replacing several specialists at once, which helps you gain a wide and varied experience that would have taken years in a large corporation.
Rapid growth. The main competitive advantage of startups is speed: you have to cope with a bunch of problems, difficulties, circumstances and changing strategies every day and make decisions just to survive. This is a powerful incentive for the development of both hard and soft skills. If you can handle the job at a startup, you will definitely be able to handle everything else.
Fast promotion. Your success directly affects the success of a startup, and your contribution is visible, it is difficult for others to take credit for it (which can happen in large corporations). When a startup grows, so do you. Having joined the team by just knowing the founder, you can become, say, an HR director after a few months of hard work.
Responsibility. For those who love responsibility, this is a definite plus. In a startup, you do a lot more every day than the specialists who sit in the huge open spaces of large companies. You feel your impact on the whole company and it motivates you.
It’s easier to get. You will not have to go through multi-stage interviews, collect all school certificates in your portfolio and explain what your advantage is over the crowd of other candidates. When looking for employees in a startup, founders rely on a candidate’s personality and their own intuition. You can get into the team even with minimal experience after one conversation with the founder if you “clicked”.
Freedom. The main thing in a startup is the result, and how you achieve it is up to you. You can always offer your idea for a product, experiment, try different approaches and tools, which is the only way to create a new one.
Atmosphere. Minimum hierarchy, job descriptions and a maximum of energy, drive, creativity. Plus, when you’re overcoming challenges together and struggling for the survival of a startup, it helps you bond a lot.
Feeling important. Every startup is created to make the world a better place — even if the team doesn’t admit it. Working in a startup, you definitely won’t feel like your best years are wasted.
A chance to get a share. Many companies, mainly in the West, offer their first employees a share in the company. If everything works out and your startup takes off, you will earn more than you would have ever received in a regular company.
Risk of failure. Let’s start with the main thing: most startups don’t take off. The statistics are relentless: in the United States, the probability of a startup failure is 90%, while 22% do not survive the first year. In other countries, the figures are more or less the same. If the market does not need your product or you fail to grow quickly, you risk spending a lot of time and effort in vain. But yes, the experience, of course, will stay.
Uncertainty. Adventurous life has a downside. Sometimes no one can answer the “What’s next?” question in a startup and it is demoralizing. Specific terms of reference and clear deadlines will be desperately lacking, and the information will change every second. This is where bigger companies have an advantage.
Irregular schedule. Working 8 hours 5 days a week has nothing to do with startups, even if you have been assured otherwise for some reason. Get ready to work until 2:00 am, have last-minute adjustments that should have been done yesterday, calls at 11:00 pm and a never-ending work chat on Sunday morning.
Lower salary. A startup cannot offer you the same high salary as a corporation, especially since the founder often invests their own money. Be prepared to forget the perks like a large office with a game room, corporate fitness and health insurance will also have to be forgotten at first.
Fewer resources. In startups, a lot is done “manually” by the team. You have to give up a comfortable office, high-quality training and outsourcing some of the processes. This might get wearing.
Chaos. A small team cannot cope with all the cases and questions, so chaos is inevitable. How big it will be depends on the efforts and competence of the founders and the entire team. The fight against management just makes some startups stronger, but others go to the bottom.
Burnout. Having no schedule, constant emotional and informational overload, high risks, great responsibility all lead to emotional burnout. And if all your efforts do not pay off and the startup fails, you can even earn psychological trauma altogether.
Conflicts. Startups don’t have corporate psychologists, and founders don’t always know how to deal with conflicts in a team. Chances are that with the next stressful situation or failure, the atmosphere may get heated.
It’s hard to focus. On the one hand, the opportunity to become a broad specialist is an advantage, but on the other hand, you are faced with a variety of tasks every day, you try to keep up with everything — sort out problems, deal with routine and strategically important tasks, leaving you no time to develop in your subject area in the end.
Responsibility. A big responsibility is not always a plus. When you work in a startup, you are in charge of every decision you make. Sometimes a small mistake can kill months of work for an entire team. Are you ready for this?
All these pros and cons are typical for a young startup that is just entering the market, communicating with investors, or even checking the MVP for the time being. What happens when a startup has its first investors or becomes profitable? Perhaps this is the best time for working in a startup: if you catch this moment, you will be lucky to experience almost all the benefits while avoiding many difficulties.
The idea has been tested, the risk is no longer so great: the company has shown its viability and passed the most difficult moment.
The team and work processes are well established, and there is less chaos.
It is at this stage that you start getting a good salary, a game room and a bonus — participation in many interesting conferences and events.
The startup vibe and the team spirit are still there.
The time for experimentation is over: if you are an innovator by nature, you will miss the MVP phase.
Fewer opportunities for career growth — people have already been appointed to key positions, there will be no instant take off.
You will still get a lot of experience, but not as much as you would have during earlier stages.
All shares in the company are most likely already distributed.
This is where the first routine appears, and with it comes the work on KPIs, bureaucracy and conflicts.
The startup is growing steadily, the team is expanding, the company is considering an IPO … What could be better? Strictly speaking, this is no longer a startup, but a young corporation. And here the relationship between creativity and routine shifts even further to the latter.
At this stage, you don’t have to worry about your salary and bonuses — you will have them, along with an excellent office, health insurance and all the perks of the HR brand.
Working in a “startup that did it” is a big plus to your reputation and a strong line in your resume.
Working in a team of people who were able to lead a startup to success is honorable, useful and very interesting; they demand a lot from both themselves and the team, think creatively and are definitely not going to stop.
You are an executor: now that the company has grown, your work is limited to your area of responsibility, KPIs and the style of your project/team lead.
Multilevel management is a necessity for a fast-growing company, meaning the benefits of a cosy atmosphere and fast work are over. They have been replaced by approvals, regulations and never-ending meetings.
You may never actually get there. This is, perhaps, the main disadvantage. After all, this is no longer a risky venture, but a job that everyone dreams of. Chances are you may not get selected out of hundreds of candidates.
So do the pros outweigh the cons?
In our article, it’s basically 50/50 but in real life, it all depends on you. Your personality type, values, goals, and even your daily habits. For some, risk and an eternal state of uncertainty will outweigh all the advantages, while for others it will only spark interest in such work.
If you are ambitious and can’t stand bureaucracy, willing to take risks and make quick decisions, want freedom, creativity and innovation — this is your way. If the salary factor is a serious condition for you, you want guarantees, a clear structure and separation of responsibilities — it is worth getting back to the list of cons and thinking again.