Joining a start-up? Think it through
Weigh excitement about the job against time, money and reputational capital it consumes
Taking a job at a start-up used to be viewed as risky because you didn’t know how long the company would last. But those days are over
Start-ups are appealing for the excitement and the opportunity, but would you thrive in a less-structured, fast-paced organisation?
Taking a job at a start-up used to be viewed as risky because you didn’t know how long the company would last. But those days are over.
“Start-ups are no longer niche; they have gone mainstream,” says Daniel Gulati, the co-author of Passion & Purpose. However, not all start-ups are created equally, says Len Schlesinger, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of Just Start. You must weigh the “passion and excitement” you may feel about the prospective job “against the time, money and reputational capital” it consumes, he says. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Think in steps
Do the research and the soul-searching to figure out whether the opportunity is right for you. Think about your preferences, Gulati advises: As a prospective employee, are you more comfortable getting in when the start-up is three people in a garage, or do you want to join only when the company has a track record?
Reflect on your motivations
Getting a handle on what you hope to get out of the experience will help you identify the right opportunity. Also, think about the value you add, what makes you a desirable candidate and the “external knowledge you bring to the table”, says Gulati, keeping in mind that the people who do best at start-ups tend to “have the curiosity of a generalist”.
And remember that “you will not stay in the role you start in for long – particularly in a growing company,” Gulati says.
Get to know the team
Once you’re in discussions with a particular start-up, get a “realistic preview” of what your work life will be like, Schlesinger says. Figure out whether you’re a “cultural and behavioural fit” for the company.
You should also get to know the leadership. “Find out their motivations for building the business,” Gulati says.
Check the financials
Gather financial information on the start-ups you’re considering. Your goal is to determine “where this company is on the growth curve”, Gulati says. Because the job will likely entail “a reduction in your regular income” along with some form of “equity participation in this venture”, you need to understand the “probability of success”, Schlesinger says.
Weigh the alternatives
Joining a start-up is a lifestyle. Long, stressful days are the norm, so you need to consider what that will mean for you, Schlesinger says. “Assume the equity is worth nothing and ask yourself, ‘Would I still join?’” Gulati says.
Don’t get discouraged
If you decide against joining a new venture, that doesn’t mean the start-up door is closed. “There is a start-up out there for everyone” who wants to join one, Gulati says. Uncovering the right opportunity, he says, is “a matter of investing the time and doing due diligence”. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016
Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist and a lecturer at Wesleyan University.
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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