The Pros and Cons of Working at a Startup

The number of startup firms has spiked in the past two years, averaging about 400,000 per year and indicating a recovery from the lull in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increase in startups – and therefore, job opportunities with startups – means any professional or job seeker should consider the pros and cons of working at a startup. Working for a newly minted company can be different from working for an established, tenured organization. It’s important to understand those differences to make an informed decision on whether a startup is the right fit for you.

Pros of Working at a Startup

The firm is on a mission. Most startups launch to improve, solve or change a societal issue– and that mission is typically more than just driving revenue. One such example? The now giant Google, which Forbes says has been purpose-driven since day one.

Employee impact is evident. While at a large firm, you may be one employee among several in your job function. At a startup, you could be the only one doing your job – and you may also be doing a few other roles along with it. You’ll see how you impact your organization, and can measure progress clearly. And, since everyone is working to launch the company, it’s likely your colleagues will be more focused on teamwork and encouragement than competition. Not to mention, because the firm is small your good work will be evident, and it’s impossible for someone else to take credit even if they wanted to.

A cool environment.  Thanks to movies and television shows, it’s almost impossible not to correlate startups with trendy office environments: game rooms, skateboarding, hoodies. And while some of that may be Hollywood’s creative license, stimulating work environments foster the creativity and innovation that will drive the business – and startups recognize that. The dress code tends to be much more relaxed, as do interactions with coworkers. After all, there is only a handful of them.

You’ll find flexibility and freedom. Flexibility and freedom come twofold with startups: with your schedule, and with your approach to the work itself. While this doesn’t negate the need to deliver (remember, you may be the only one doing your job), it does mean when and how you do the work can be flexible. In fact, you may have to be flexible with how you approach work, especially if you’re working on something that’s never been done before. Trial and error are par for the course with a new business launch, and you may find yourself exercising flexibility as you take on roles you never imagined.

You’ll take on more responsibility. A smaller team means more responsibility for the team members, and, again, you may be the only person with your skillset, and therefore responsible for the whole “division.” This means that as the business grows, your responsibility can grow with it. You’ll also be involved in decision making that wouldn’t be available to all employees at a larger organization.

You’ll learn – a lot. Charting new territory means no corporate training department with an established path for new hires. Instead, you’ll need to learn as you go, and as the company grows. You’ll also be working closely with skilled entrepreneurs, who are often uniquely driven, creative and original. And, that means you’ll learn a lot by observing your colleagues and company leadership.

Cons of Working at a Startups

You’re taking a risk. Startups can be unstable. In fact, most of them will fail. While this doesn’t have to be a non-starter in your decision, it does mean there is a real possibility your employment status can change. And even if the company doesn’t go under, there may be gaps in funding or resources that can lower or suspend pay.

Your work/life balance might not be very balanced. Building a business from the ground up takes a significant amount of passion and dedication. And while that entails inspiring co-workers, it also means long work hours – sometimes even extending into holidays, weekends, or evenings. Hours are often odd as well, seldom sticking to the “9-5,” as startups push to launch products, build a customer base, or accomplish multiple jobs. A need for quick, early wins can accelerate stress and urgency.

Expect a lower salary and fewer benefits. As startups work to secure funding and launch a product or service, they are often funneling every spare cent into operating costs – not salaries. This means you should expect a lower salary at a startup than you would receive at an established firm, and instead may receive some equity in the company – depending on your level at the organization. Similarly, with smaller employee sizes, startups generally can’t negotiate the same extensive benefits packages a larger organization can.

Structure will be minimal. Between fewer employees, uncharted territory, and many first-time leaders, startups often have little to no structure, which can lend itself to disorganization, missed budgets or timelines, and dynamic strategy.

Is a Startup Job Right For Me?

The answer to that question will be different for everyone. You should consider your working style, and whether a lack of structure will inspire or hinder you. You should also consider your personal situation, and whether your finances can absorb a lower salary or if debt or commitments require more money. Can your family situation accommodate a non-traditional schedule, or do you need something more established? Are you able to weather a season of instability, or do you need consistency?

With the rapid growth of startups, even if the cons outweigh the pros for you now, you may have the opportunity to revisit the opportunity again. After all, they say the only constant is change.

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