My experience working for a startup

I used to hear the saying “drinking from the firehose” and “baptism by fire” at least twice a day

Having majored in Finance and Economics, I wanted to avoid the career path that was expected of me (i.e., get a job in finance and move up the corporate ladder). Instead, I decided to explore the startup scene as soon as I graduated college. I thought it would be a great learning experience for me.

There are quite a few common themes across startups, which I want to outline below. I was working at an early-stage startup that was fully bootstrapped, so you can take everything with a grain of salt. Regardless, here are some common threads I found:

  • Fast-paced: Decisions are made fast, and sometimes on the fly (which, as you can imagine, can lead to bad long-term outcomes)
  • Work hours: You work 50-60+ hours at the minimum. It won’t be in the job description, but it is expected. You’ll probably end up working on the weekends and not get extra compensation for that – oh, the beauty of being a salaried employee.
  • Pay: You take a pay cut when you join (may not apply to more established startups with, say, Series B funding). You hope the startup will do well in the future, so that you can cash in on those stock options (if you have any) OR at least get a decent pay raise.
  • Lots of “hats”: You DO have to wear a lot of hats. You will be assigned tasks/projects that are way out of your comfort zone, because … well, the startup doesn’t have the resources to hire more people. So you end up picking up the slack. In my short time, I was a project manager, a customer support specialist, a technical writer, a trainer, a data analyst, software tester. You name it, I probably did it (or at least tried to do it). I used to hear the saying “drinking from the firehose” and “baptism by fire” at least twice a day.
  • Ownership: You WILL be held accountable for every task assigned to you. You can’t just get by. You aren’t just responsible for the project. You OWN it. In fact, you will probably deal with people who invested in this startup first-hand, and they want to see results. If they don’t, people get fired easily (decisions are made on the fly, remember?). How’s that for “no pressure”?
  • “Good enough” approach: To get things done, you don’t necessarily need everything to be perfect. What?! Yes, for a perfectionist like myself, this was a difficult concept to master. The idea is the following: when working on a big task, there will inevitably be stumbling blocks along the way. So it’s fine to get through roughly 75% of the scope and then take care of the remaining 25% later. If you try to get all 100% right from the first time, things might just never move!

I know the media makes it very cool and hipster to work at a startup, but that is far from the truth. On the contrary, there is a lot of stress, pressure, emotions, risks, and an overall feeling of a never-ending grind when you work for such an organization. If this sounds like an environment where you can see yourself grow, then by all means go for it!

But please don’t join a startup for the glamour. Join to learn things, grow, and help build something awesome.

And be prepared to work your butt off.

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