That this is the age of entrepreneurship is undisputable. For reasons ranging from evolving socio-economic landscape, and the change in the priorities of the new generational workforce, start-ups are emerging (and also fizzling out) faster than ever before. For the quintessential new age employee, this seems like good news; more diversity in terms of work, working with passion and meaning, and getting successful quick and fast. But along with these benefits, come plenty of risks as well.
As anyone who has ever worked in a start-up can attest to, it is not everyone’s cup of tea. One needs to give thought to factors beyond the conventional parameters like salary, position, role and responsibility etc. before joining a start-up. If you too are mulling joining one, or have an offer that has left you confused, ask yourselves the following questions before you reach a decision:
Who are the founders?
Do not be in awe or critical of the founders based on a single interview or your impression of the workspace. Spend time and energy to find out more about the founders, and things like if they have experience, if they have toyed with different ideas in the past and shut shop soon after, what their personality is.
Such information should be available on the internet, and through social networks, but you should also not be hesitant to talk to mutual references. As naive as it may sound, you really do need to understand and believe in the vision of the people who have founded the organisation before you join it.
At what stage is the start-up?
‘Start-Up’ is an umbrella terms that encompasses three people sitting behind their laptops in a coffee shop to something as big as Uber. Hence, it is important to clarify – with the founders or by researching on your own – where exactly does the organisation stand? Is it still in the conceptual stage, or has it launched? Has it received any traction, or has it been in the ‘trying to crack the market’ for years? Is the revenue-model in place or things will be figured out with time? It is important to understand that there are no right or wrong answers here, but you should be comfortable and satisfied with them. It would also be wise to find out what sort of a market does the start-up exist in; whether it is saturated with similar organisations, or if the start-up is a pioneer.
What sort of a team and culture exists?
Teams in start-ups are usually small, and work in close association, hence it is important you understand the kind of culture they work in. Again, do not assume things based on a single interview, and if possible ask for some time – a week or ten days – to work with the team, before making a decision.
If you are not going to get along with the people who work in the organisation, no matter what the work is, things are going to be challenging. Understand very carefully what sort of a structure the start-up operates in and where will you fit, for every start-up will probably have different values, ideas and ethics that they work by. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the culture and structure of the company.
What will your role be?
It is very, very important to satisfactorily understand what role you will be required to do, and how much flexibility comes with it. The next part is to introspect and ask yourself, if you would be willing to take up work beyond this role when needed, if you will be comfortable working long hours, beyond the stipulated 9 to 5, when needed. Would you be comfortable multi-tasking, and stepping up to do menial yet important tasks or taking up roles that you have no experience or knowledge of? Finding the answer to this question is essential if you have been working in a big corporate up until now.
Are you going in to learn, or apply your learning?
You need to ask yourself, if you are joining a start-up to learn or to use what you have learnt up until now. Additionally, you need to make sure that the founders, or your point-of-contact is on the same page, and the expectations align. If you are going in with the idea of learning an entirely different subject, you need to clarify what support the organisations will offer you; in terms of tangible resources (like courses, trainings etc) and whether you will have a dedicated mentor. Be very clear of your learning objectives, before you join a start-up. Furthermore, be honest with yourself about how much effort you are willing to pitch in to start from scratch, if you are required to learn something new.
Why do you want to work for a start-up?
Probably the toughest one to answer, is why do you want to join a start-up, for only you can honestly answer it. If you are wooed by the hype of the industry or think working in a start-up is all fun or are going in only because of a major bump in your current salary; think again. Understanding why you want to work in an organisation that isn’t established or offers you the conventional ‘security’ is essential.
The tricky part is that it is while answering this question, you get to decide and understand, if you are the type of person who is willing to compromise on the pay if the work is exciting, or if you are the kind of person who values learning and experience over other things.
One thing is for sure, that if you join a start-up for the wrong reason, you won’t last long, and here’s the thing: you always know the right reasons from the wrong. Working in a start-up can be the most exciting and important step in your career or it can leave you with a bitter aftertaste, depending on what your expectations were and what was expected of you. Don’t go in assuming that you will hit a jackpot in a matter of months, and be ready to walk the extra mile when needed, and you will be fine.
What were some of the things you considered before joining a start-up? How did your experience and journey pan out? Let us know in the comments below.