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.

I recently finished Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?. My friend and former client recommended the book to me.
Christensen’s a professor at Harvard, and he starts out the book addressing his class. Indeed, the book has a certain business flavor to it. Yet, it’s relevant to think about what success looks like beyond our careers and what we do for a living.
In fact, the phrase “what we do for a living” has a business sentiment these days. If you think about it, it’s a general question. I work out. I go out with friends for dinner. I write… a lot. Oh, and yes, I also work at a startup. I do a lot for a living, not just what I get paid for. I digress…
Here are my top take-aways:
  • I need to met my hygiene and motivation factors to be happy. Frederick Herzberg developed the Two-Factor Theory. The Theory helps explain what drives us and what causes us to both hate/ love our jobs. This is something I’ve heard countless times from business school and a book I’m reading now. Hygiene factors include pay, status, company policies, etc. In business school, I learned these are “extrinsic motivators”. Motivation factors included the actual work (fulfilling? Challenging?), recognition, personal growth, etc. These were also known to me as intrinsic motivators – these are internal sources of drive. Satisfying both factors is critical for me, and why I do what I do.
  • Be open to emergent opportunities, not just jam everything into a deliberate path. Deliberate paths are just that – planned, executed strategies. Emergent is a path where other opportunities provide a new direction (“emerge”). In startups, this is a pivot. It’s important to be open and even sometimes look out for emergent opportunities.
  • Everything has some purpose, some job to do. This is better known as Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done Framework. The framework is about recognizing that everything we use has some job. Even the people around us perform jobs for us. That could be a friend to hang out with to be happy; a spouse to lean on when times are rough; or, a colleague to help execute a project. Even a milkshake has a job to do. Milkshakes can be a simple breakfast alternative for busy adults. They can also be a treat to occupy children. So, think about what others provide to you as the job to be done. Also, recognize what job you fulfill for your friends.
  • How you live is all about your resources, processes, and priorities. Christensen points out how we strive for more resources without considering the processes to which we use them. For example, it’s common to give children more learning tools and more classes. However, it’s just as easy to pass on teaching and childcare to a daycare or nanny. Parents, then, are outsourcing the parental process. Parents are outsourcing how their children learn and how they process – think, act, execute. Priorities set the culture to how we devote our resources and enact our processes. Priorities are where we determine for what and who we make our time for (the one resource we never get back).
  • It all comes back to culture. One of the book’s final chapters is, “The Invisible Hand Inside Your Family”. “Invisible Hand” here referring to culture. We (I) talk about culture in business, but it permeates all facets of our life. Christensen happens to address culture in the family. Specifically, culture is about the values and mission taught to children. Culture is rarely formalized. Instead, it’s recognized through the norms we practice. It’s absorbed by our children and those around us.
  • “Just this once” is once too many. It’s the slippery slope that makes this one action okay. It’s the rationalization that a single time is okay as long as it’s not a habit. That one time makes it okay once. So why wouldn’t life repeat itself where it becomes okay twice? Three times? The moment our integrity slips, the easier we can let go of our integrity more often. That moment we make that excuse that today, I’m too tired to work out so I won’t go to the gym. The next time I’m tired, I can rationalize again. One time. It can speak volumes. One time can lead to a path.

Christensen’s book was great for me to remind myself of what’s important and what really drives me. I’ve written several times about what motivates me and the pull I sometimes feel as I consider my current and future direction.

Great book to read, and think about our lives professionally, personally, socially, and beyond.