Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?

Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?
http://easysmallbusinesshr.com/2011/03/disgruntled-employees-warning-signs-protection-strategies/

In the previous posts of the “Should I Work for a Startup? series, I provided an unbiased approach to the question. In the first post I described the Benefits of getting a job at a startup, and in the second article I wrote about the disadvantages.

Now it’s time to get personal!!

In this particular post – I will provide a biased and personal opinion, based on my work experiences of working for Startups.

Whenever I am asked “Will you accept a Job Offer at a Startup?”. My answer is “No, I won’t”

Before I explain the reasoning behind a seemingly negative statement- I want to clarify that I have worked for an early stage startup. I have also worked for a company that has been around for many years and operated like a mom-and-pop shop (Less than 10 employees). Based on my experiences, I have decided not to work for early stage startups anymore.

My definition of a startup is as follows

  • Less than 3 years old,
  • Less than 25 Employees
  • Currently not-funded or backed by a VC

However, there is one caveat- I will only work for a startup if I am the original founder or a co-founder. And this is not because of my ego – it is because the level of complexities involved in working for an early stage startup.

Here are the reasons why I will not work for an early-stage startup.

A. Where is The Promised Land?

Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?

If you have interviewed for a job at a startup, usually the pitch from the hiring manager (in many cases the Founder) is going to be something like this.

  • “We are going to be the next Facebook”
  • “We will change the world, and we want people like you to come work for us”.
  • “As we are a startup, we cannot offer in salary what you might get somewhere else – but we will offer you equity”
  • “Would you rather work for a company that does not appreciate you, or a team where you can become a millionaire?”

I am not kidding, I have heard it all. The failure rate of venture-backed startups is 75%. VC-backed startups typically get funded $1 million, and in-spite of that 3 out 4 startups fail. The failure rate is much higher (in the 90%) for early-stage startups. There are variety of reasons for this – market timing, economy, lack of vision, poor leadership, poor execution,etc.

Eventhough the above promises are enticing, and might give you goosebumps be wary of such promises. If you are entrepreneurial like me – these conversations will get you very excited. Trust me – it gets me very excited.

However, based on my experience – funding can take longer than you think (unless the founder has a track record of startup success), and in most cases the company will be financially strapped. Not getting early funding is also a sign that the product/service has not been validated by the market. In other words, the Product Market fit has not been legitimized yet.

The Promised Land – faster promotions, million dollar paychecks, C-level positions may not come. As mentioned, the market might not even accept the product/service.

I have experienced this personally.

B. Politics exists everywhere

Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?

I have had conversations with friends who have told me that they will never work for a large company because of the politics involved. Ever seen the show Suits or House of Cards. Most of the back-stabbing and that politics that you watch in these shows do happen in real-life.

I do agree with my friends on this – however startups are not immune to this. They are run by humans after all. People are people; and politics exists everywhere.

A friend of mine found herself on the job market for this very reason. A small marketing startup she was working for was doing extremely well. It was starting to get traction and recognition in the market, and things were rosy. It was like a small & happy family.

Then things went sour. There were constant clashes between the two founders, lots of unwanted quarrels & drama. All employees including my friend had to witness this everyday. Eventually the company could not sustain itself, and had to split.

The two founders split the company; they also split the clients and took them to their individual new companies. As a result, many employees like my friend were on the job market unexpectedly. This is not uncommon.

I have experienced this myself. If there are multiple founders – each has their own agenda. Rather than servicing the clients and keep the employees engaged- priorities get shifted. The company loses focus. Eventually the environment gets demoralizing to work for.

C. The Truth about Growth Opportunities

Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?

In my previous posts I have talked about the value & benefits of learning; and how I enjoy learning new things, new skills,etc.

These is a common misconception that only at an early-stage startup you will experience tremendous learning. Yes, it is true that you will be forced to wear different hats & multiple responsibilities. And this will force you to pick up lots of skills in a short period of time.

However, learning occurs even in larger corporations. Do you believe that employees at Bank of America, TD Bank, Goldman Sachs, Merck, Google do not learn much? In most large corporations learning is integrated into the fabric of the organization, and almost employees has learning & training credits to obtain.

Most corporations invest in robust Knowledge Management and Learning & Development systems. Training and Career Development is an integral part of the culture. They provide employees a structured learning path. I have personally experienced this working for JP Morgan, Canon, Robert Half Technology and AvePoint. In many cases, they pay you to improve yourself (i.e they pay for your education).

This privilege and benefit does not exist in early-stage startups. To be fair,the startups are boot-strapping to attract customers and investing in product development. So I don’t necessarily blame them – it is because of limited funds. However, for someone like me who enjoys learning,training and growth – this becomes a hindrance.

D. Financial Stress

Will I Ever Work for an Early-Stage Startup?

I have mentioned about the potential upside of working for an early-stage startup. There is a high probability of making a fortune if you play your cards right. At the same time, I have also talked about the probability.

I mostly found myself cash-strapped and in a bleaker financial situation during the times I worked for a startup. Working for a bigger company provides a more stable and predictable income potential. And when you take into account the healthcare benefits it improves your financial situation even lot working for bigger company.

It is never fun to be broke. If you are burdened with student debts, mortgage,etc. then I strongly encourage you to take this into account. I have learnt things the hard way. The instability and the uncertainty that is linked to the future of the startup will make things worse.


I know I have shared more heartaches & challenges that are involved in working for an early-stage startup. As a result, I have made a decision not to work for a startup anymore.

The only time I will work for a startup is when I am the founder or co-founder of the startup. This is less about my inflated ego. This is more about providing more control and flexibility; and if there is a chance to be rich – why not be rich on your own idea rather than someone else’s idea.

This post was not to dissuade you from applying for a job at a startup. I simply wanted to share my personal story and some of the challenges I have faced working for a startup. I have also gained lots of positives from the experiences – growth, learning, skill-sets,etc. I would not be at a full-time job that I currently love & enjoy; and I will not have had the time to write this blog without the past experiences.

I am curious to hear your story about working for an early stage startup.

If this post resonates with you – feel free to share!!

Author: Nissar Ahamed

Nissar Ahamed is an accomplished Growth Hacker with extensive experience working as a Blogger, Content Creator and Editor. He is the Founder and Editor of the Award-winning Career Blog, CareerMetis. The Blog CareerMetis has a community focused approach to career discussion and has earnt Nissar great respect amongst his peers. View all posts by Nissar Ahamed

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