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Thinking About Joining a Startup? Don’t Overlook These Elements


I get a lot of folks asking me about joining a startup. Most have spent many years in the large corporate world. They start off by asking for recommendations of startups nearby and contacts I know. They think they know what they’re looking for. At least, they know what they are looking for right now. Rarely do folks take a hard look at what they want to achieve longer term. Then, how do they figure how a potential move now fits into the longer goal(s).

Before I go name-dropping startups, I always ask folks to think about the larger picture. There’s a lot of attention to startups because of the glitz and glamour media portrays. But there are big companies that can offer the right opportunities many startups can’t. It’s best to start with what your vision is – what drives you. Cue: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

Then, there are other elements oftentimes overlooked when considering startups…
  • The stage of the startup can influence the roles available. Generally, company growth can be split into a handful of stages — early, growth, and maturity. Early-stage companies are still figuring out product-market fit. They can change direction very quickly. Growth-stage companies are starting to optimize for scale. Here, roles are less “wear many hats” and more “this particular hat”. Mature companies go even finer with roles (sub-functions). As a prospect considers a role at a company, s/he needs to realize the agility that may be required. After all, most folks who ask about startups mention their interest to do many things.
  • How much funding has been raised — number of raises, how much, how many investors. Investors are pouring money into some companies to get in on potentially lucrative gains. Venture capitalists (VCs) are hoping to make up for that one big win in 20 companies invested to cover the fund and make significant returns. The more money, the more rounds of raise, the more investors mean the more pressure and expectations there are for timely returns. This pressure is put onto the executive team which will continue to flow down to every position of the company.
  • … about money raised, think about what the goal of the company and its shareholders may be. Is the goal to create a company that lasts and stays private (rare in the tech startup world)? Have a liquidation event (most common desired state, i.e. acquired by another firm)? Go public via an IPO? Whatever the strategy of the company is in funding, consider what the possible outcomes may be 2, 3, 5, or even 10 years down the road.
  • Again, what are you really after? Clayton Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life, developed the Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework. He posits that everything we do or have has some purpose in life… a “job to be done”. In this way, what is the job the literal “job” should provide? Is it just money? Is it some fulfillment? Is it a place to meet friends? A startup is a company that provides goods or services to drive shareholder value. A corporation is no different – they’re all companies. How one startup executes its vision can be different from any other startup. This applies to large corporations as well. Thus, maybe what one is looking for is less about “startup” or size of company as much as it is purpose and vision or role.
Think about it. What’s your vision for yourself? How does your right-now fit into that vision? What does a startup offer that a large corporation may not? Or vice verse.

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