Working at a startup is often referred to as a cool thing to do, especially in tech. It feels like an advantageous thing to do. It’s a fast, agitated and ever changing environment. Which can be good for your career in so many ways, but I wont go through the magical things about working at a startup in this article, instead I’ll try to expose the dark side.
Right after graduation, I had the opportunity to work for an early stage startup ( idea-stage ), and I grew to become the CEO of the company for a period of time. Since I joined, I was attracted by the fact of seeing something being built from scratch, which was a very attractive idea at the time.
Throughout this time, I learned so many life-changing things and I also went through some very hard times when I nearly regretted my decision of working with a startup.
Today I would like to reflect on the challenges you should prepare for before working for a startup.
A lot of work
Let me put it like this: when you are working at a startup, you’ll work harder than most people who doesn’t. The fine line between your work and your personal life will get thinner and thinner as you go.
It’s kind of a good thing in some way, since it helps you set a new standard for your work ethic, which can help you achieve more in your life, but it’s also very overwhelming.
I worked many weekends and many evening, the main reward was the progress we made as a team and the impact I had over it.
I recall a time when I had to redo the work of an entire week the night before presenting it to a client, it was a Sunday night. Another time, during the same project, I was out with my friends during the weekend and I received a call from the manager who asked me to go home and help them solve an urgent problem. By the end of that project which took two months, I received a 10% bonus ( not a raise ), which was disappointing.
Not paid enough
I worked my way off to the point where I became a very dependable team member, and I was aware that the pay didn’t match the work I was doing. I was fine with that, since I got to put hard-to-write lines on my resume that I am proud of to this day, but this is probably just my personal POV, many people wouldn’t agree.
Unless you are working at a unicorn startup, you wont be paid as well as your peers in big companies. You will hardly have the money or the time to do anything for yourself. Startups are usually very fearful when it comes to spending money, because there is no money in the first place.
Even when you hear a startup raising millions, there is a high chance that they are not profitable (yet). Many first time founders tend to be very frugal, and they will always prioritize the free stuff, the person that can fill two positions at the same time with the salary of one, the cracked software… Which creates a limit to how much you can contribute as an employee.
When you first join a startup, you tend to be very excited and motivated to create something that was never built before and take big responsibilities early in your career. After few months, your motivation will disappear and you’ll be left with the huge amount of work on your shoulders and the weekends you need to sacrifice to finish the work in time. During that time you’ll start questioning your decisions and asking people around you what they think about your situation.
This happened to me many times. I even thought about quitting many times but I kept challenging myself not to. In the world of startups, the default thing is that it’s not going to work. As a result, startup founders start doing this terrible mistake of acting like a small business to cover their expenses with activities like consulting and e-commerce, which is a wise decision financially speaking, but it’s also threatening the startup’s vision and identity.
Nothing is more frustrating for a startup team than not being sure about the vision, especially when that’s the main thing that motivated people to join in the first place.
I would like to stop here for now, since you might want to take some time to digest the ideas we discussed so far. There will probably be a part 2 later if you are interested.
I hope this article added value to you, please share with people who can benefit from it. Thank you for your time.