Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 things you need to know before working at a startup

A recent study by my company HireArt, a Y-Combinator-backed recruiting business, showed that startup employees often get fired or quit because they are not a good fit for the company. Part of the reason why that is the case is that working for a startup can be a bit different than working for larger companies.

Here are five things people should know before trying to work for a startup:

1. Working for a startup means having ownership over your work and doing something that you really believe in, but it also means doing whatever is needed of you.

Be aware that working at a startup also involves “grunt work,” well below what you might do at a larger corporation. Expect to do whatever is needed of you. Sometimes this will mean building a revolutionary feature to your product and sometimes it’ll mean making phone calls, signing for deliveries, or other tasks you may think are outside of your job description.

2. We all hope for a big exit a la Instagram. However, you should understand the risks and be aware of how rare startup success really is.

A recent Harvard study notes that 75 percent of startups fail. Will your next employer be a success or a failure? Even if everyone is working extremely hard at building a life-changing product, the reality is that it doesn’t always work out and many startups go out of business within a year. Understand what that would mean for your career progression — having too many “short stints” on your resume is a big no-no.

3. While getting equity is a big plus and many startups have yummy snacks and fun perks, expect a lower salary and fewer benefits.

Startups are usually more strapped for cash than other companies. This means that many of them may not be able to offer comparable salaries or benefits to other opportunities you might have. We recently had candidates for marketing positions asking for $150,000 –- note that while this might be doable at a large company, startups, in our experience, pay about 70 percent of what you might get at a larger organization.

4. You’ll have lots of exposure to founders at a small startup, but you may get less mentoring than you need.

The team atmosphere of startups is what makes it irresistible to many of us — working in a small group to achieve a big goal is energizing and feels like you’re back in college. But your managers are busy and often don’t give you the kind of formal mentorship you might get elsewhere. Don’t forget that your managers are often less experienced than you are in a given field, so it’s up to you to learn on your own. If you’re the only marketing hire at a start-up, you’ll get much less mentorship than if you worked at, let’s say Proctor and Gamble, where people with tons of years of marketing experience can teach you the tricks of the trade.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while startups are a lot of fun, the pressure can be much higher than at other types of companies.