On VentureApp recently, we’ve had numerous conversations about how to break into the tech scene and the benefits and downfalls of joining a startup – whether you’re a young professional entering the workforce or a more seasoned professional simply looking for a new career direction. There is a lot of hype around joining a startup, some of it for good reason and some of it likely exaggerated by the general perception of startup life (it’s hard work but fun, there’s many perks like kegs, free lunch, ping pong tables, and flat team structures, building something from the ground up, equity and stock options, etc.). Depending on the person, these perks can be positive or negative.
Questions to Ask Yourself
So what types of questions should you ask yourself to determine if startup life is right for you? Jeff Bussgang, a general partner at VC firm Flybridge Capital, entrepreneur and professor at Harvard Business School, is a prominent expert on this topic. In fact, he recently wrote a book called “Entering StartUpLand” which you can pre-order now. We had the opportunity to ask him all about the topic of joining a startup in a public chat with him in the Boston Tech network on VentureApp. Below are a few of the questions he would recommend asking yourself.
- Are you someone who is comfortable with risk and uncertainty or do you need structure?
- Do you like working within a system or are you more of a rebel-type who likes to work outside the system?
- Are you ok with autonomy or do you prefer being directed?
Here are a few more questions we would throw into the mix as well:
- Is money a primary driver in your career decisions?
- Do you want to hone in on specific skills or wear many hats?
- What are your motivations for joining a startup?
When moving into the interview and selection process, your questions about whether the startup is a fit evolve even further:
- What is the team structure – are you on an island or do you have team?
- What are other professionals in your field & stage making in compensation and is this offer comparable on the startup scale?
- What is your growth path at the startup?
- Can you get behind the product/service, goal, and mission?
- Do you mesh with the founders? The rest of the team?
- Do you believe in the business as a whole?
- As best you can surmise, is your role a longterm or short term fit for the business?
- Am I missing any? Chat with me on VentureApp.
What to Expect
Joining a startup isn’t always beer kegs and unicorns, though. It’s hard work and it takes up much of your personal time and energy. Given the expectations for growth associated with venture backed businesses, time is precious when your runway is limited in years to reach certain milestones. This pressure to move fast, break things, succeed quickly starts at the top naturally and trickles down – hopefully in a healthy way – to team members. Responsibility and accountability are paramount to working at a startup destined to succeed. Here are a few other things to expect if you join a startup:
- Change is constant – Your day to day life at the company will change all the time, depending on product updates, customer feedback, product market fit (or lack thereof), team churn, and more. Buckle up, be flexible and adaptable and you will make an impact.
- Get ready to do… anything – It’s all hands on deck at a startup so be prepared to do just about anything your team needs you to do. As the company grows, roles become more developed. Until then, you might be attending events, cleaning out the fridge, tweeting, answering customer support inquiries, etc.
- Be a team player – In addition to running errands and doing tasks not necessarily within your job description, you’ll also likely be pulled into conversations you wouldn’t normally have at a larger, more established company.
- Be your own advocate – Even with a small team, the pressures of running a startup are high. Make sure you feel comfortable advocating for yourself with your team and leadership. Being a good communicator is incredibly important in the early stages of a startup as the formal processes you encounter in larger startups are not likely in place yet with your young team.
- Always be learning – Working at a startup is not your typical 9-5 job. You have to show up ready to learn and adapt to changes in the market or your specific role on the drop of a dime. Further, no one will tell you about the new developments or trends within your industry – you have to constantly stay abreast of trends that could have an impact on your role, and ultimately, the business.
How to break into the startup world
As I mentioned above, Jeff is an expert on this topic and wrote his book specifically for “joiners,” or employees two through two thousand who join the founders to help turn the big idea into a big company.
You first have to do some research into which company interests you enough to apply. Luckily, Jeff pulls together a list of “winning” companies every year in Boston, LA, NYC, San Francisco, London, and Israel. For the purposes of this post, here’s Jeff’s take on the hottest companies in Boston to join:
Now, that’s a big list. So where do you start?
From there, it’s all fine and good to have a short list of companies you’re interested in, but your work is just beginning. Applying for a job at a startup is not the same as applying for a corporate job. In fact, many startups base their hiring process on referrals from current employees, former teammates, and other people in the industry. So how do you tap into your local network to help you find a job? Demonstrate that you have value to add.
I recently wrote a blog post about how to network in the new economy – meaning that when you’re making new connections, those connections perceive you as valuable, contextual, useful and relevant, and they enjoy keeping you within their network. We could go on and on about this topic but let’s focus on how to be valuable to people within startups that will help you get a job.
This is a great motto to live by in any job search but especially at a startup: “Come bearing gifts and suddenly you’re perceived as someone who is adding value, not just supplicant.”
If you still have questions about breaking into the startup world and how to get a gig at an emerging company in Boston, read our blog, Boston’s Future: How To Find The Right Tech Job In Boston.
If you have more questions about how to get a job at a startup, make sure you read Jeff’s book and join the Boston Tech network on VentureApp. Every day we have experts participating in public chats in order to help young entrants tap into the community.