Here’s what you need to know to succeed at a startup.
Dreaming of helping to found the next Amazon or Uber? That will mean working for a startup. Working for a startup company can be an incredibly exciting and fulfilling experience, but for those coming straight out of corporate life, it can also require a serious change of perspective. Here's what you need to know to succeed at a startup and enjoy the experience to boot.
Everyone who's ever worked at a startup has probably fantasized about seeing their stock options climb sky high and turn them into instant millionaires at the IPO. However, it's important to face facts — most startups either never reach that IPO or end up as typical mid-level companies. The odds of catching the brass ring are pretty slim, so recognize the fantasy for what it is and focus on more achievable rewards.
Expect to work (constantly)
The biggest drawback to working for a startup is the difficulty of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Startups often can't afford to hire enough people to keep each job within the confines of a 40-hour workweek, which means you'll probably be working at least one and a half jobs, depending on the amount of time you end up putting in. The good news is that technology has leapt to the rescue, with tools such as Slack making it much easier to work remotely or at odd hours of the day. You might be working 12- and 14-hour days for a while, but at least you can do some of it in your fuzzy pajamas and bunny slippers.
Define your job
When you take a job at an established company, you're likely following in the footsteps of a dozen or more other employees who have cycled through that job already. You'll have a reasonably well-defined job description and will have a clear idea of your duties and their boundaries. At a startup, you may well be the very first person ever to hold the job you were hired for, so your job description is likely to be pretty fuzzy. While this can be difficult for employees who like firm boundaries, it's also a huge opportunity for you to define your job and your responsibilities in a way that fits your own preferences perfectly.
Because startups tend to have so few employees, each and every one of those employees is critical to the company's success. One slacker could single-handedly bring down the company. That means if you're going to work at a startup, you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and take charge of your job. You'll likely be the only person working on a given project, so its success or failure is entirely up to you. Expect to do a lot of self-management as well, because your boss will probably be too busy to spend a lot of time with you.
The upside of this kind of environment is that not only do you get to own your successes and savor the resulting accomplishment, but you can also expect a meteoric rise within the company if you do your job well.
Accept the risk
You've no doubt heard the scary figures about how many businesses fail during their first year. When you work at a startup, you need to accept the possibility that the company you're working for could disintegrate suddenly and without warning. That's a pretty scary possibility, but it's the necessary counterbalance to the possibility that the startup could hit the jackpot and make you rich for life. In short, startups are a high-risk, high-reward kind of job. Be optimistic about the possibilities, but make sure you remember what you could be getting into.
Be prepared for ups and downs
Speaking of risk, life at a startup tends to be chaotic, to say the least. You can expect some wild changes to take place in the company, your job, your benefits, and possibly your compensation package. For instance, if the startup's funding starts to run dry, you may be asked to accept a temporary pay cut to help keep the company on its feet until more money turns up. Company perks like free lunches and insurance coverage can come and go depending on what resources are available at any given time. Even the nature of your job can change overnight based on what the company needs to be done at any particular moment. One of the biggest advantages startup companies hold in the marketplace is that they tend to be nimble, but that means you'll need to be equally nimble to thrive in such an environment.
Find your calling
For most startup employees, the long hours and sometimes crazy ups and downs are well worth it because they're working on something they believe in passionately. If you're going to work at a startup, it's crucial to pick one with a mission you care about. If you don't truly believe in the company, its products, and your role in its success, you'll struggle to find a reason to invest the necessary time and energy. But as the saying goes, if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life.
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