Considering Joining A Startup?

hotdogAre you tired of working for a large company and feel you need to leave in order to find something meaningful? Or are you new in the workforce and not sure if you want to work for a big company, a small company or a startup? Then you’ll want to ask some questions of yourself and your potential employer to determine if joining a startup would be your next position.

Understanding Yourself

Working for a startup is not for everyone. A good first step is to know your own personality and work style. I know an individual who says that if you point him in the direction you want him to go, he’ll get it done without oversight. I know others who like working in one area and are very specialized in their department. If one of these sounds like you, then you may be more suited toward a larger corporation.

However, if you are always feeling a tension between how things should logically be done and the way the boss wants it done, and you think you could do it better yourself, then your personality may be more suited toward an entrepreneurial goal. If that is you, Pulse has many many articles on entrepreneurial thinking and entrepreneurial startups, so I won’t cover that here.

If you are a team player who loves a common goal and are interested in jumping in wherever needed to help the team be successful, then your personality may be in line with that of a startup.

Understanding the dynamics of startups

Startups have multiple phases to them and each has its own personality, so identifying where the company is in its growth curve will also help you join at the right time and not too soon or too late. I’ve chosen to lump them into a few categories.

First, a startup goes through an initial development phase. At this point there is no product yet for sale, the company is burning cash from angel investors or other smaller sources. This period exhibits very exciting times with a high energy level. Each roadblock will need everyone to come together to solve the problem and move the company forward toward a product. These are live-and-breathe the idea times. You would either be part of the founders of the company or a very early employee hire.

Next is the initial sales phase when the product is being sold to early adopter customers. The product is being tweaked based on customer feedback. The company is starting to develop the initial aspects of an organizational structure. The company may have an external round of financing to provide more cash to continue to develop and market the product. In this “cowboy” phase, there is a “git ‘er done” attitude where customer issues drive an all-hands-on-deck mentality until resolved. The customer now drives the company development and so flexibility and long hours may be needed from employees.

Next is the growth phase where the product is showing success in the market, sales are growing quickly, the number of customers is growing. The company is acting less and less like a garage startup and it may experience a large upswing in hiring as the organizational structure gets filled out with staff. In this phase there is going to be more division of labor into departments. Staff may have expertise in one area but still help in other areas. This is also a time of many long hours because the company will be feeling understaffed as the growth outstrips hiring ability and the ability of new employees to come up to speed.

Finally, the company will move into a maturing phase. In this phase the company will be implementing more processes. It will hopefully continue to experience sales growth and may start thinking of follow-on products to develop. The cowboy attitude will be replaced by formal processes to maintain control and to make sure things don’t slip through the cracks. In this phase, there will be even more division of labor into departments. There will be a formal administration, product, testing and operations units fleshed out and these departments will be growing in numbers rather than figuring out what they do. In this phase, there will likely be less need for all-hands-on-deck and so work hours may be more stable and offer more flexibility. These descriptions, of course, are generalities so specific companies may differ in how they approach each phase.

Don’t forget company research

Determining the company growth phase is one part of your company background research. But don’t forget about researching the company itself. You will want to look at the company financial information (or at least as much as you can). Is the company indeed growing in the phase it is in? If it is in the early stages, does it have enough cash to burn during development and early sales days? Is the product unique to minimize existing competition? Are the sales team successful in gaining new customers?

Making the link between you and the company

Now that you’ve evaluated yourself to determine your type of personality, and you’ve investigated to determine which phase the company is in, now it is time to make that link between the two. Is the company at the phase that matches your personality or is it too soon (or too late) to join them? Is this a good company (well funded, viable/unique product, ability to compete)? Are you passionate about what it is they do and sell?

Working for a startup can be a wonderful, exciting part of a career path. You get that “I made that” feeling knowing that you have been a part of something great. On the other hand, if your personality isn’t a good match, you’ll always feel that you are overburdened, burned-out and hating what you are doing. Knowing what your own personality is, and where a startup is in their growth can make all the difference between loving a job and hating it.

Posted in Tom's Posts.