Considering Working at a Startup

Working at a startup

If you are plugging away at your corporate job, dreaming of a break room equipped with beer and air hockey tables, it may be time for a career change. Considering working at a startup may be the change you need. Choosing to leave your comfy nine to five is a big decision. Startups are a risky business, and not just for the founders, so before you jump ship for the opportunity of a lifetime, be sure it really is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Be Self Aware

When most of us think of startups, we have this romanticized notion of great leadership, total creative freedom, and being a key player in developing a revolutionary product. While it’s true all of these things are possible, it’s important to understand that there is more to the story.  A startup is a great place to learn by full immersion; an opportunity to rub elbows with the founders and get a behind the scenes view of what it takes to build a business from the ground up.

A startup is also a lot of work for not a lot of pay.  The atmosphere can also be volatile. Because the fate of the company rests on even the smallest of goals, highs are celebrated with reckless abandon and lows are tremendously stressful for everyone.  There is no one to hold your hand or train you.  You don’t get a pat on the back for simply doing your job.  In fact, you are expected to do the work of at least 5 people and learn skill sets for which you were not hired.

The bottom line is, this is a great environment for risk takers and people who love change, chaos, pressure, and responsibility. This is a terrible place for perfectionists, the timid, or anyone who becomes anxious in an uncertain environment.  Take some time to think about who you are and whether or not this type of lifestyle sounds appealing, long term.  Most people in a predictable job would enjoy the temporary high of this hectic environment, but can’t thrive there for long. When considering working at a startup one option is to consider how long you plan to stay with them, maybe two or three years helps you gain a skill and is worth some of the downside.


Before committing to a startup, be sure to do your homework.  When considering working at a startup always remember,  the vast majority of startups fail.  Entrepreneurship has never been easier and while that’s amazing, it’s also scary to think about putting your future in the hands of someone who may not be qualified to run a business.  Research the founders to understand their background and experience.  Look at their following and community to see if they are building loyal customers or an inconsistent experience.  Research the industry and see if there are similar products and how they are performing. Is this product or service truly revolutionary or simply a gimmick or fad? If you have an opportunity to speak with the founders during the interview process, ask them about their vision and next big goals.

Request a Follow

One of the best things about a startup is that no two are alike.  Far from the uniform experience of the corporate life, startups have very unique cultures unto themselves.  If you’re not sure how you will enjoy a certain work culture, ask for a follow during the interview.  This will allow you to work side by side for a day with the people who will become your second family, should you choose to take the job.  It’s a great way to try each other out and see if it’s a good fit. You may even get a sense of how well the company is doing and the direction they are headed in.

Apply Through a Staffing Agency

If you are considering working at a startup, but you are not ready to fully commit and are concerned about the job security and benefit aspect of working with a startup, consider going through a staffing agency.  Staffing agencies thoroughly vet the companies they work with and secure valuable intelligence about the organization and culture.  Some startups may not offer great benefits, understanding all of growth you gain and value of the perks can help. Also, if you decide you are not a fan of startups, or the organization goes south, you are much more likely to find employment elsewhere within a shorter turnaround time if you are already built a relationship with a staffing agency.

Some other resources on this topic:

What’s it like working for a startup

The unwritten rules of working at a startup that no one likes to talk about

Company culture on a budget



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