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5 Things to Consider Before Joining a Startupby@janefisher
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5 Things to Consider Before Joining a Startup

by Jane FisherOctober 19th, 2022
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The shiny dream of building the next Silicon Valley unicorn can often be tempting enough to compete with the comfort of a regular, peaceful 9-to-5 with a handful of perks. But joining a startup could be the next turning point in your career. There is always a risk that it won’t work out – particularly if we’re talking about early-stage startups all the way to the seed round. Even if eventually your startup succeeds, it’s important to understand that a large part of this journey may be quite stressful and disheartening – and make sure it's worth it.

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There’s something about the startup scene that inspires drained corporates to leave their cozy, paced lives at big multinational enterprises and pursue the thrill of the unknown.


The shiny dream of building the next Silicon Valley unicorn can often be tempting enough to compete with the comfort of a regular, peaceful 9-to-5 with a handful of perks.


Indeed, joining a startup could be the next turning point in your career. It’s a great chance to experience a new industry or capacity, have your say in important decisions impacting the whole business strategy of the company, and simply be a part of something great that can potentially change the world.

So What’s the Catch?

There’s one thing to know about startups before considering working in them: there is always a risk that it won’t work out – particularly if we’re talking about early-stage startups all the way to the seed round.


And even if eventually your startup succeeds, it’s important to understand that a large part of this journey may be quite stressful and disheartening.


Should you resist the temptation of trying your luck simply because of the danger of failure? Absolutely not. But there is every reason to make a decision of joining a startup with a cold-minded, reasonably critical approach.


Now, in this article, we won’t be touching the subject of founding your own startup, as it’s a whole different topic to go over – and as an employee, I believe I’m not the one to elaborate on entrepreneurship (at least yet).


However, having worked for an early-stage startup for over a year, I have definitely accumulated some reflections to share.


Here are a few key questions I would recommend asking yourself before signing up to work for a startup.

1. Does It Drive Me?

Stepping into a startup usually means quickly immersing yourself in a fast-paced environment with countless simultaneous processes that tend to change very quickly.


You might have to combine multiple roles at once, rapidly master new skills, and learn about all sorts of matters that you never had to deal with.


All of that can be incredibly fun and exciting – as long as you are genuinely passionate about the mission of the startup you’ve chosen and you actually believe that your product is worth all those efforts.


In fact, understanding why this work is important to you may be your only chance to stay sane during the darker times when you’ll feel like it’s all going nowhere – and trust me, there will always be such periods, even if eventually you’ll build that unicorn that’ll change the world.


To keep your eye on that light at the end of the tunnel, you need to start your journey with a firm belief in its existence.

2. Does It All Make Sense?

Getting a solid answer to this question may require you to dig much deeper into the subject – but the time it might save you is very much worth it.


Do your research about the field that the company operates in, look through their website, and try to understand what their product is and what similar products are already out there in the market. All these efforts will help you ask the right questions at the interview.


Why bother? Unless you are invited to join as a co-founder, you’d want to make sure that the company has a clear vision of its product and its target audience, the markets it’ll focus on, and the monetization model.


The only reason why any of these points may remain unclear by the time of your interview is when they are hiring you specifically as a CEO, a Business Development Manager, etc., with the purpose to define these aspects with your help.


Stay very much alert for the warning signs that the company’s business strategy is heavily based on assumptions. For example, just because it’s targeting a global problem doesn’t mean it’ll fit into different markets globally.


Or just because the founder had a certain experience finding a solution to his personal problem, it doesn’t mean that everyone else out there would need a specific product to solve similar issues.


Meticulous market research, critical approach, and pragmatic thinking are extremely important even in the most inspiring startup environment.

3. What Are the Founders Like?

It’s quite a common thing for startup founders to be eccentric or relatively hard to deal with. After all, it often takes a certain bit of creativity and/or madness to come up with a truly innovative idea and try to bring it to life.


However, instead of romanticizing the popularised “passion” and “courage” as the core qualities of the founders, think of these aspects:


📌 Do these people look like they can handle a business? Do you like their thinking?


📌 Do you trust their experience in the industry and their judgment? Have they done anything remotely similar in the past?


📌 Is there a co-founding team of 2+ people balancing each other out, or is there one solo founder that has full power to change anything in the company in the flick of a switch?


📌 Does it look like you will personally feel comfortable working with them?

4. Will I Have a Share and/or Power?

This question may not seem that important when you’re joining a small startup that has little to no revenue and is basically just starting out.


However, once you find yourself giving it all to the business that has never been yours, sooner or later you’ll start wondering if your input in its very foundation should be worth its part.


That feeling of possessing a certain part in the business might also give you a bit of extra motivation to keep going strong on the downward parts of the journey.


As a business owner (even if you only own a couple of percent!), you will most likely feel that going through hardships is more justified. After all, being just an employee on a salary is much easier when you work for a corporate organization.


If you’re joining at the earliest stages, it’s worth negotiating to be on the confounding team and have more weight to your word in the consequent strategic decisions. This way, you will less likely end up suffering from someone else’s mistakes that you had no way of preventing.


Of course, greater power comes with greater responsibility, so only consider this route if you really want to be at the core of the business. With early-stage startups, it’s often a feasible option – and it’s an opportunity that’s much harder to secure in a big established company.

5. What if It Doesn’t Work Out?

However great the mission and vision of the startup you’re joining may seem, the chance of failure is never low. Therefore it’s worth making sure that the journey would be worth it regardless of the result.


In other words, even if the startup that employs you never makes a successful exit, you should still be able to leave with valuable takeaways – and no regrets. Some tips to make sure the outcome is positive for you no matter what:


✅ Join a startup with a mission that you believe in and would be proud to look back on;


✅ Choose a role that would give you the most diverse, hands-on experience that you can use in your career later on;


✅ Make sure the startup brings you into the industry that you’d like to stay in, so you can form the right network and learn from industry experts


✅ Do your best to be informed about your sector and the latest tech trends – so you’d be able to make a solid judgment of your startup’s performance


✅ Be passionate – but also be realistic.

Last Note

Working in a startup can be a bittersweet journey with moments of sky-high thrills and grim disappointments.


As an employee, sometimes you will feel proud of the input you are making, and on other days you’d be desperate that you don’t have the power over the things that make the business bounce back or stagnate.


Whatever ups and downs you face, what is almost guaranteed is that you will get incredible experience, learn a lot, and gain valuable insights that will take your professional versatility and expertise to a whole new level.


The question is, where will your journey take you?