Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

So You Want to Work for a Startup. Really?

Posted on: April 29, 2008

Job First of all congratulations. I think you’ve made a choice to look at some exciting career options, and thats a very good thing. Once you are willing to look at startups as well, as an option, a whole new world opens up. Yep, it does.

So here goes the first question. Do You want a job, or do you want to work for a startup?

If you said yes to the first one, you don’t get to pass go, nor collect 200, but go straight to another fabulous job portal and upload that resume. If you said “work for a startup”, then you need to read more.

See, working for a startup is not rosy. It’s probably the second most craziest thing to do. The first one being, starting a startup ofcourse!

All jokes apart, these are some characteristic traits that you NEED to have, if you want to work for a startup. Here goes the list.

1. Self Motivated and Task oriented. No one in a startup is going to tell you what to do, how to do it and when to do it. But sooner or later someone will come and expect that it you deliver it. So, if you are gonna be working for a startup, its going to require that you know what is needed and burn some post-it notes, and be ahead of schedule – your own schedule.

2. Friendly Attitude. There are possibly only going to be five or six people in the entire company besides you, so it does help to have a friendly and outgoing personality. You certainly don’t want to contribute to a scenario where working in your office feels like working in the mortuary.

3. You should be an expert in something. There should be something that you are an expert at – even if its a game of solitaire. Startups need people who are outstanding achievers. Without them, there is no hope at even making a dent against the giants you want to dance with. If that one thing is a programming language, or the ability to sell even your grandmother’s spectacles, great!

4. Learn Fast. Now that you know one thing very very well, there are going to be a few dozen other things that you need to pick up on the fly and master it well too. If its Ruby on Rails, or that Javascript Toolkit, or that new programming language, you should be able to see a few samples, read the code, and be able to whip out a prototype or so pretty rapidly. If you are in the business side, you should pick up trends, and acronyms as if you were born speaking it. Do you show any signs of learning fast?

5. Never, Never be lazy. I sometimes get calls from people who want to know what the Startup Lunch Program is about. I usually want to hang up on them and say its something which is not for them. Do not expect people to spoon feed you. All it takes is a google, or a url type-in and you’d understand what its about. So if you are a lazy person, and can’t even google up something before asking a question, nope, you need to cultivate that habit, or look for something else to do.

6. Dedication – Iron or Steel?. How long does it take for you to start believing in something? How long does it take for you to realize that it wont work out and quit that option. This is probably the most crucial question to ask before you make that plunge. I’d prefer the guys who are like steel getting magnetized – slow to be magnetized, but keeps the charge much longer. We dont like quitters in a startup.

7. You need to be a dreamer. Dream and dream big. The only way to remain sane in a crazy world is to become a little crazy yourself. Working for a startup is like living on the sets of Alice in Wonderland. Unless you are a little crazy, you are going to be having a heart attack. How much guts you have, and the vision to make those dreams come true, will matter.

So it really doesn’t matter if you are a fresher, or have ten or thirty years of experience. If you have what it takes, a startup is a great option to look at. All that said, ask the right questions to the founders, and be fully convinced before you join. And if you do join, don’t quit before you have achieved what you set out to do – no matter what happens. If you can’t commit to that, stay away from startups. Working for a startup is not for the faint of heart, and there is no shame in admitting to that early on, than be sorry later.

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21 Responses to "So You Want to Work for a Startup. Really?"

Amazing summarization of what attitude a startup requires in each of their team members..

Great post again.. Keep up the good work :). It’s a boon for first time entrepreneurs like me to read through your blog and learn the values and imbibe them !

Good article.
I would like to mention following as add-on :

I think, those are fresher, joining startup should understand that it will be lot of limitation in all company (not only in startup). If some MNC is giving tons of allowances and free food / cab – staff bus / work from home / uninterrupted internet / free phone / training at out station for few week/month(s) / immediate on-site / payslip on 1st … , a startup where you may be joining, very likely may not give you (most) of it. So keep your expectation till getting good and limited ( mostly u will get tons of ) work. Also you may need to work out of your core domain when it situation arises. So Best of Luck …

(On side note : I m working in start up since last couple of year … If some one really wishes to know worst case situations … please get in touch.)

Viral,

Can you tell me about your experience of working at startup?
I am graduating with MS in medical informatics and global marketing and looking for startup job..

Best,
Dr. Ashwin

Hi Viral,

I’m interested to know about some of the worst case situations. Could you please shed some light on it?

Regards,
Karan

Excellent article.

Another point should be learning from other’s mistakes. True I understand, we can’t foresee them and this advice works well everywhere, but in a dynamic work environment, it always makes sense to keep abreast of what others are doing wrong so we can capitalize on them.

Shivaas, Gaurav: Thanks

Viral: Good point

Rishab: I think that applies to the founders, than to the guys who would be working for the startup. Employees are employees at the end of the day – They wouldnt have to worry about everything.

I think one should work for couple of year before starting their own business. It helps to understand how things are in the real world. You can actually save money you earn for your venture.

Ravi: It depends. In some case some of the candidates do need to work somewhere in a bigger organization to hone their discipline and expectations. In some case, that actually turns out detrimental – if they end up in a organization that puts them in a bench.

Freshers are amazing assets if you utilize them well and know how to mold them.

One more to add:
Know where your salary is coming from : You are responsible for your income – essentially, figuring out who the customer is and working towards delivering total customer satisfaction is important. There are no cushions and accountability is direct.

[…] Vijay Anand wisely states in his post “So you want to work for a startup.Really? […]

I don’t see how these points are limited to working at a startup. Seems like general tips to be successful anywhere.

Good points nonetheless.

Very good stuff Vijay, it has helped me as well to certain extent to motivate some guys in our i-flapp… I believe if a guy relates his passion with company vision, i think half the battle is won and its all about execution after that towards final frontier

Hi Vijay,

You have covered some very good traits of a startup guy and i agree with most of them. But reading through your comments, i have a feeling that this post encourages people join one without telling them what actually is store for them. I ve interviewed lot of candidates and i know most folks have no idea what startup means and they somehow have many myths of working for one. I ve complied a list of pitfalls for these people in my blog
http://arunpc.com/2010/04/05/why-should-you-join-a-startup/
Thank you and do let me know your comments.

Regards/Arun.

Some very good points listed here. Except for my first 2 years after college where I worked for a larger company, I’ve worked for small companies and startups for my entire career. Right now I am one of the founders of a startup (investment banking related) that is growing pretty fast. The biggest quality I need to see in a new employee is that they are entrepreneurial and don’t need to be managed. My worst employees over the years have been people who need to be told what to do instead of just figuring it out for themselves. If we feel that time after time we need to tell someone to do something and only then do they do it then it is pretty likely that person will be let go. Everyone needs to “own” their role.

Good article vijay. One point that I could find missing is, the context of the person working in the startup i.e., at what level is he placed? For ex, After working for coporate for 15+ years, I joined a startup. it was operational for years but nothing is in place.

In startups, levels are only for offer letters. In my current job, team calls me and asks me to debug their code. Some of them even ask my help to write their emails. Requirements are given over phone and no known documentation etc. So, I play all the roles under SDLC. btw, I did testing also 🙂

The biggest issue that I see at least from my experience is, startups work in an adhoc and unorganized manner. If a person is process oriented and worked in an environment driven in an organized manner, I would not recommend startup for him/her

Syam,

Thanks for the comment, but I think you are in a scary situation and just so you know thats not a healthy startup. Think about it – a startup is supposed to be this highly efficient entity, small and agile which can do things that larger companies cannot do and hence the reason and space where it creates value. From what you are describing, looks like the founder is often looking for his lost car keys.

Strong recommendation: Have a reality check, and get things in place or get out. That startup might not be going anywhere.

V.

This article was motivating thank you. I’m currently involved in a new business and know how hard you have to work when trying to build a company from scratch.

Great article. I have built two successful startups so far and these are absolutely the traits that I look for in new hires. I also agree with one of the previous posters that the worst employees to have in this type of environment are the ones that need constant direction. You definitely need the people who just improvise with limited direction.

Great article. Very positive! I would like to offer some advise to those who may be considering working for a start-up for the first time. If you are at all concerned with getting ahead (making some money) I would suggest doing some hard negotiation at the start of your employment. You should also do some math if you are expected to absorb some of the expenses yourself. Start-ups are cheap and will not offer anything unless you ask; and even if you are not being unreasonable you will need to negotiate! Expect to work immense overtime hours! At least in my experience, if you are not absolutely crazy about the work put your overtime into a job that pays for all your hard work.

I don’t want to be a downer… It costs me money to work long hours for a crappy salary!

Good luck

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