Are startups for me? |

Are startups for me?

matches-2Recently, I have been recruiting people into Orthopedic and Spine startup companies.  I have found that most people that I interview have NO IDEA if they are suited for a startup or not.  It’s like asking them if they would like to go to Mars.  And how should they know… really, having never worked at a startup.

Previously, I have written articles about how the startup journey can be extremely rewarding both as a career accelerator and financially.

I have had the fortune of working inside three startups and recruiting for startups. It takes a special mindset to work in a startup.  Startups aren’t for everyone, but if you are the right person a startup can be very rewarding. I can spot someone who has the right stuff pretty quickly.


To find out if a startup is for you, take this simple test – The Startup Test.  8 simple questions that determine if you have the right stuff to work in a startup environment.

The Startup Test

INSTRUCTIONS:  Be truthful and answer Yes or No to each of the 8 questions.

Question #1 The Risk Question

Do you embrace risk?

Startups are risky.  You have to go in knowing that most startups fail for a myriad of reasons – missed the market need, ran out of cash, wrong management team, got outcompeted, pricing/cost issues, product issues, ill-conceived business model, product mis-timed, pivot gone bad, failure to pivot,  management, faulty business assumptions such as regulatory pathway, poor execution during commercialization, and so on.  In other words, there is a lot that can go wrong.
If you need a steady paycheck and are basically risk-averse person, then it’s a NO.  Stop right here.

☐Yes ☐No

Question #2 The Change Question

Are you comfortable with change and I mean really comfortable?

Startups are fluid, lack formal structure and are full of entrepreneurial spirit.  Are you OK with ambiguity and quick changes in direction which may include changes to your title, your projects, the company strategy, your physical working location, the organizational structure, and the fundamental way of doing things?

☐Yes ☐No

Question #3 The Work Question

Do you enjoy completing extremely hard work in short time frames?

You’ll have to work hard at things you’re not used to doing or don’t know how to do. And often, you will work alone as you carry some project from idea through execution.   All the while, you will not have the tools that you may be used to if you are coming from a big company.   Some love the hard work and others run away from it.  Many startups push the work-life balance and the “me time” begins to blur.  Working hours can become a fluid concept. One of the reasons startups shower their employees with free food, beer, and services is because they don’t want you to go home.  At Ellipse we had an endless supply of candy and goodies. We felt guilty leaving the office at 7pm if others were still going.

Yes No

Question #4 The Speed Question

Do you value speed over perfection?

In a startup culture, perfection and speed are in constant balance and compromise, but speed usually wins the day. Can you turn in a project before you think it is ‘perfect’ in order to meet a deadline?
Yes No

Question #5 The Structure Question

Can you work without structure?

The earlier the stage in the startup, the less the structure.  Some startups don’t have products, sales, marketing or manufacturing, so they don’t need much structure. Some don’t have procedures for much of anything, don’t have org charts or job descriptions. Don’t have expense reports or travel agents.  People who need a lot of structure and process to feel comfortable in a work environment will have trouble surviving at a startup.
Yes No

Question #6 The Ownership Question

We all make mistakes.  Do you own your mistakes?

In a startup, everybody knows the quality of everybody’s work.  There is no hiding.
Employees who thrive in startups openly share their mistakes and offer ideas for doing it better next time.  Do you own it or hide it?
Yes No

Question #7 The Experimentation Question

Do you enjoy experimenting to find a better way of doing things? 

At Ellipse we experimented every week – I called it “rapid iterations.”  It was part of the DNA of the culture. Many startups are built on experimentation. Do you have the experimental mindset?

Yes No

Question #8 The Trust Question

Do you have the ability to trust the guy next to you?

Can you trust him to do his part.  You can’t be over-controlling.  This is part of the ambiguity culture… you have to be comfortable with and able to trust your startup buddies.  As you navigate through the ambiguity, there will come a time you have to pull together as a team and make a decision, usually very quickly.  You need confidence that you and your team can figure out the next move in the middle of the battle…and live with the outcome.

Yes No



If you made it through Questions 1-6 with all YES’s… congratulations.  You belong in a startup.  Contact me.

If you hit a NO before Questions 6, then a startup is probably not for you.