As seen in a recent article Medium published, many professionals are considering if 2023 should be the year to finally join a startup. Big companies are no longer seen as places guaranteed for job security, and with current economic times – the impending sense of a layoff is only adding more stress to employees.
With the stock market getting hit, anxiety levels rising, and the recent news about Silicon Valley Bank and other bank failures shocking the startup ecosystem, is now the time to consider joining a startup?
Before you make the jump, you’d probably like to hear from a professional of color who has worked at them. Because – let’s be honest, the startup space is NOT typically the most diverse work environment. I’ve experienced that first hand working in a couple startup environments myself.
I’ve joined a startup as employee number five (yes… you read that right, employee number five). I’ve also joined other startups with over a hundred employees. You’re probably thinking - What? How? Why? But let me just say, first and foremost - not all startups are created the same or doomed for failure.
It’s normal to be skeptical of startups. I had a lot of questions and still do to this day, but there are both pros and cons to joining one. Here’s an honest guide to what it’s like to work at a startup.
Because startups are usually so small, collaborating with many teams is normal. I’ve had the opportunity to work cross-functionally with engineers, product managers, customer success, product designers/UX researchers, sales, etc. This model of open collaboration makes you feel like you’re more connected to the business, especially when you see how a project can impact multiple departments within an organization. Through cross-team collaboration, I’ve learned about organizing a 2-week engineering sprint, interviewing users to gain insights into a product, developed case studies after speaking with customers, and understood the significance of a product roadmap, to name a few.
Within a startup environment, things are moving fast – pretty fast. Projects in a big environment that typically take months to finish can be launched in a matter of weeks at a startup. So if you’re someone who really enjoys a fast-paced environment, like I do, then a startup can be the place for you!
Thinking about starting your own company someday? If you have that entrepreneurial spirit or plans to build your own startup, joining one will give you a holistic perspective on what it takes to build a company. You’ll learn about developing a product roadmap, crafting your pitch deck, understanding what it means to pivot your product, managing budgets and finance, hiring and retaining talent, and so much more. The quickest way to learn about building a company is definitely joining a startup and growing with them.
Take the time to research the investors that are funding the startup. Are they or the founders well-known? Ask about the dynamic with their investors. Are they hands-on and supportive? Do they offer mentorship or facilitate introductions to potential hires or partners? Or are they in the background after the investment?
A great question to bring up to any startup founder is about their runway, or how many months their business can keep operating before it's out of money. If they have at least 18+ months of runway, it’s a good time to join them because you know money is in the bank.
If you believe in and respect the startup’s leadership, then you’ll want to work for them. If you believe in their long-term vision, it will inspire you to keep going when things are tough. However, if you don’t respect their decisions or you feel that they aren’t being transparent or walking the walk, then it’s not an environment to consider.
As I mentioned previously in the article, the startup space doesn’t appear to be the most diverse space. You may be the first person of color to join the startup, or the first few. I have been the first Black woman to join an early stage company – and it does add a bit of imposter syndrome. However, even though you are the first, you can forge a path for future employees who look like you. Also, remember that you were hired for the role because of your abilities – not because of how you identify.
Do you believe in the mission? The problem that is being solved? This is the north star that will keep you going when things are tough or you need help defining your job’s purpose. Your passion for the work will ensure that you’re having fun along the way too.
Depending on the startup’s size, it’s likely that you’ll be working on a small team. This means it’s important to ask yourself: Can I see myself learning and growing with the team? Understand how they resolve conflict – that’s a BIG one I’d recommend asking on a startup. You want to know that you’ll be able to communicate and collaborate effectively, and respectfully. And, given that you’ll be in person or Zoom with them, you’ll want to consider if you can get along with them on a work call or project, or even a quick team hangout.
There’s always a slight risk before joining a startup – but my advice? Take the leap and apply for a job at a startup! No company is perfect but you’ll be along for an incredible ride where you’ll grow and develop in your career – especially when focusing on a product and mission that you’re proud of. As someone who has worked in three startup environments throughout my career, each experience has been worth it. Ultimately only you can decide if joining a startup is the right choice for you, but I hope the guidance I’ve offered above will help you determine whether or not the perks of joining a startup is worth it in your own career.