Thoughts about starting out with a start-up

by Rich DeMatteo on February 2, 2010 · 11 comments

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This is a guest post from Scott Hale.  Scott blogs over at Highway to Hale, a blog about community building and creative problem solving.  You can find Scott on Twitter @sjhalestorm and catch him as a Co-Moderator of the popular Twitter chat, #u30pro.

Alluring Possibilities in Muddy Waters

Let me start with my story. It’s no secret that my graduating class of 2009 was entering a piss-poor job market. After a summer of job searching, my refusal to send out a blanket of standard resumes was starting to pay off. I was seeing some interest.

One option was a startup agency. I hadn’t considered working for a startup straight out of college, but I came into contact with a new company that was looking to grow quickly. They were very honest that they wanted to make me their first hired employee and hit the ground running with some help from investors.

To make a long story short, the company offered me a salary and benefits and I accepted. But things are rarely set in stone with startup companies. After six months, full-time is a distant dream and benefits haven’t even entered the atmosphere of thought. In other words, they jumped the gun by making an offer.

Silver Lining in Stormy Clouds

I know it doesn’t sound like a dreamy situation, but there are some serious perks to working in a startup.

  • Experience: Working with a startup is as close as it gets to a baptism by fire, because experience flies at you fast. I’ve been forced to learn new skills and broaden my professional repertoire (which is awesome). With so few people on a team, you aren’t likely to have an expert on every project. It’s an opportunity and a necessity to become an expert, or at least a jack-of-all-trades.
    • You’re also going to need to dedicate a chunk of your personal time to learn these new skills that won’t be asked, but demanded of you.
  • Networking: It takes some time for a startup to get some traction, and during that time, employees often have the opportunity to build their personal network and focus on their personal community. As personal brands for employees grow, the company’s visibility can tag along.
    • Not to be a pessimist, but if the startup doesn’t work out, your personal network is a great way to get back into a heavy job search.
  • Options: As noted above, I don’t always have a ton of work to do with the startup – My free time has allowed me to work with some incredible people in my industry. I’m like a Social Media Mercenary of sorts. I’m learning more than I could ask for and picking up some extra income at the same time (big thanks to everybody that has taken me in).
    • Make sure you clear this up with your employers before you go out and get projects with outside employers.

A final note about startups as a thank you and shout-out to Rich for having me as a guest on COTJ: Hiring at a startup is unique. Without HR and recruiters involved, your network is more important than anywhere else. Creativity and connectivity are your ticket to trust and impressing the right people.

Startups aren’t the first places that come to mind during a job search, but they are definitely worth checking out. Just be careful and understand what you are getting into.

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10 comments
Royce
Royce

Extremely interesting guest post, well done

Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao

Scott, I think you're gaining some great insights from this experience. My first job out of college was at a startup. While it was the startup from hell, I still think I learned quite a bit from the experience. It was absolutely baptism by fire. Startups teach you so many valuable skills: 1) how to be self motivated 2) How judge character (i.e. when hiring, choosing your boss, etc) 3) How to be self-educated The list goes on and on. At the end of the day it's all what you do with it.

Lindsey
Lindsey

I identified with this post so much because, as you know, I work for a start-up! Jack-of-all-trades accurately defines my role! I get to do a lot of things I probably wouldn't get to do in a big corporate environment, and a lot of things someone else might do FOR me but it balances out. I'm learning a lot and I use my network at least everyday to benefit the start-up in order to make sure we get the press we need and the right people involved. It is risky but so is working for a corporation - especially these days, you can get laid off at the drop of a hat. I don't get paid as much as I would in a bigger company but I think the long term rewards are worth more.

Beth
Beth

This is a really great guest post. I think that it shed some insight on what it's like to start at that level, and the value in really getting some experience on the ground level and working your way up. Also, I liked the way that you made the caveat about personal time. I don't work at a startup, but I work at a nonprofit - where funding can constantly have you feeling LIKE a startup. The idea of dedicating personal time is key - and most often, a constant reality.

Scott Hale
Scott Hale

Thanks for leaving some thoughts, Srinivas. The three things you listed as valuable skills from start-ups are spot on. The key about the situation is that it relies on "self" a lot. If you are a self-motivated individual, start-ups can be a great fit. On the other hand, if you're not heavily self-motivated, you'll figure out how to get self-motivated quickly with a start-up.

Scott Hale
Scott Hale

Hey Lindsey, Thanks for your thoughts. I like that you pointed out that there are risks associated with any job these days. I agree that the learning experience just might be worth more than a larger paycheck coming straight out of school. - Scott

Scott Hale
Scott Hale

Thanks for the comment, Beth. You're absolutely right about working with a non-profit - it can feel very similar at times in terms of personal time spent. It really comes down to enjoying what you do and understanding that it takes some personal effort to see success. - Scott

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

@Srini and Scott - You guys seem to be in sync on this. I think most important is self motivated. In a start-up there isn't much time for someone else to motivate the few employees they have. For the company to be successful, and for the employee to get the most out of it they must push themselves.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

@Lindsey and Scott - Definitely risks associated with every job. Soak up as much information as you can from the start up, then move on if you feel a better opportunity can come your way. That is my advice!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

@Beth and Scott- I definitely think the biggest thing to consider when joining a start up is how much personal time will be used to help the business grow. Time is valuable to you, and you need a life outside of work. I firmly believe in that. It's important to have a passion in work, but you need to have a passion outside of work too. If the time commitment is too strong for the business, and won't allow you to enjoy life outside, then maybe it isn't for you - even if you do love the work.