I have worked in startups, my friends are now running startups, and I have interviewed successful startup leaders on my blog and on the podcast.
Here is my advice – In general, you will do better in a smaller organization, than in a larger one. You will have more accountability. You will be more visible. You are more likely to be able to try on multiple things. People in small companies are more likely to give you leverage through battlefield promotions. You are going to have more flexibility and there is just more authenticity is a small ecosystem .
You don’t have to start out small. A good progression for a career start out in a large company, and then progressively move to smaller and smaller ones. It’s very hard to go from a small company to work in a larger company. Larger companies tend to be more about politics and less about merit. Larger companies are more stable, but they’re less innovative situations.
If you have the right stuff, a move to a startup can change the trajectory of your career.
So let’s look at seven benefits of working at a startup.
You will be given more responsibility. You will gain experience faster – 3X is my rule of thumb. Your projects are completed faster. You will work way outside your primary job description. You will be pushed outside your comfort zone. And you will become exposed to functions and areas of the business that are “off-limits” inside a big company. Heck, eat lunch with the CEO. All of these experiences will super-charge your resume.
You will be given more opportunities. It’s simple. Look around and there just aren’t enough people to do all this work. So, you will be given new opportunities way faster than in a big company where you have to get in line for years “to be ready”.
You will work on innovative technologies. Startups are lead by entrepreneurs who have a different mindset. They enjoy challenging the status quo. Every clinical problem that they see is an opportunity for innovation. Then during the execution phase, they approach challenges differently because they have to squeeze the most results out the least amount of time. You will have the opportunity to learn from these innovators every day. It rubs off on you.
You will “own” work at a startup and you will make a difference every day. You matter. You can affect the success of the company. This is very satisfying and may be the #1 benefit of working in a startup.
Financially, you will actually “own” part of the company. The stock ownership can go a long way at a startup. The earlier you arrive at the startup when the risk is greater, the higher percentage of the company that you will “own”.
You will know what is going on in the company in real time. It’s a small office and everyone know what everyone is doing. If you do good work, it is recognized immediately. And if you screw up, it is recognized immediately. This transparency is very motivating. You get great praise for good work and you try like hell to eliminate mistakes in order to avoid disappointing your colleagues.
Another benefit is that this transparency will also protect you from being blind-sided by bad business conditions. You will see the issues that the company faces first-hand and can leave on your own terms, rather than getting surprised with a reduction-in-force.
If your startup succeeds (acquired, IPO or hyper-growth) then you are a rockstar. You will likely have a financial windfall and you will forever be associated with a winner. You can choose your next career move on your own terms. If your startup fails, then you have acquired all the benefits listed above and you have more career options because you have taken the startup adventure.
7. Little Downside
Working in a startup, you get to do the work that you enjoy for long hours, and you have the potential to make LOTS of money. If the startup doesn’t make a zillion dollars, you gained valuable experience that will pay dividends your whole life. In short, experience has shown there is really NO downside to the startup experience.