I’m a big fan of startups. I interned with startups, I’ve worked at startups (and currently work at a startup), and I support startups, so when I read John Rampton’s “10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Join a Startup” via Entrepreneur.com, I took it a little personally. Startups don’t have the best reputation, I get it. They’re flakey, unstable, here today gone tomorrow. But it’s a reputation that’s undeserved.
There are, of course, pros and cons to joining a startup, as there are when joining a major international agency, but I feel that a person’s reasons for working at either are mutually exclusive: some go after the money, others follow their passion. Rampton states that joining a startup could change your personal and professional life, and I truly believe that it does… for the better.
Here are 10 reasons why (in my opinion) you SHOULD join a startup:
1. You will get paid. There’s this assumption that because it’s a startup, there is not enough money to go around, but startups wouldn’t hire people if they couldn’t afford to have them. The salary you’re offered probably won’t be as high as you would like it to be if you’re experienced, or it may be higher than you’re used to if you’re entry-level.
In my professional and personal experience, money doesn’t mean happiness (it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t true!). You could make double the salary at a bigger agency and have no work-life balance, a toxic boss, ridiculous hours, etc., and for what, a better paycheck that you can’t enjoy? Been there, done that, was miserable the entire time.
Don’t not take the job with the startup because the pay is not what you think you’re worth. The experience you will gain will be invaluable, the startup will see and appreciate your worth, and I promise you it will get you to where you want to be. You have to start somewhere!
2. You may not land a role on the executive team. But you just might. Everyone has to climb up the ladder, no position will just be given to you. You want the role of CMO? Show the CEO you have what it takes. Could it take years to get there? Sure, but nothing happens overnight. What if the role doesn’t exist? Create it. One of the best things about working at a startup is that thoughts and opinions (that provide value) are welcome. If you think a position/title should be offered that’s not, speak up. More likely than not, your boss may agree and if funds are available (and necessary), that position could be created – and you just might be the person to write the description for it, or fill it!
And don’t worry so much about titles – industries and companies use them differently, so while you may be “Senior” at one company, you could be “Assistant” at the next.
3. Some startups fail. And some don’t. Rampton states that there’s a “very real chance” that the startup will fail (citing a Wall Street Journal study, which found that 3 out of 4 startups between 2004-2010 failed). I personally have a problem with studies for a number of reasons which I won’t go in to, so I’ll just say that I wouldn’t give that study too much weight in your decision to join a startup.
If you’re concerned about the “status” of a startup you’re interested in and/or interviewing for, ask questions. Many questions. Specific questions. Do your research online, ask people in your circles if they know anything about the company and the people. If you sense in the interview and/or email exchanges that something is not right, you’re reading/hearing that the company is not doing well, then go with your gut. But don’t be afraid to take a chance, either, especially if it’s for a company that you really, truly believe in, and genuinely want to see it succeed, and you have ideas on how to gain that success.
4. You’re going to work really hard. I hope that no matter where you end up working, you’re going to work really hard. Here’s the difference, and this is why I love startups: each day is not the same. Like I stated in the beginning of this post, I’ve worked at the major international agencies and I’ve worked at the boutique agencies, and let me tell you something, there’s a big difference in the “work” part.
Yes, you have the same responsibilities and clients and deadlines, but with startups there is far more flexibility in the day-to-day. The structure is not so solid; there’s room for improvement, suggestions, ideas, changes. You, in a sense, help to build the startup (or keep it growing) – you’re a piece of the building block so your input is valued, important, and, quite frankly, necessary. At an established company, you are a tack on the ladder and trying to change anything or point anything out, well, don’t bother having to deal with the bureaucracy of it all. Unless something is absolutely unacceptable, it’s best to keep things to yourself because not doing so might actually hurt you.
And don’t be deterred by Rampton’s statement that “you might work like a maniac for an excessive amount of hours each week because the startup is in a race to beat the clock”. Sure, that happens, but this is not the “norm”. With any job, if there are many deadlines arriving around the same time, of course you’re going to work around the clock to meet them. If there’s a big client event next week with top tier press attendance, yes, you will be working long hours, evenings, weekends… but that all comes with the territory, no matter which industry you’re in or who you work for.
And I would think that you choose to work at a startup because you feel a connection to it, you are passionate and excited about the product/service, not just because it’s the only job offer you get. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t really feel like “work”, does it? You’re just doing what you love, and getting paid for it, no matter the work schedule. What could be better?
Number 4 brings me to another point, which wasn’t mentioned in the original “10 Reasons”: In a startup, as with any company/organization, there are titles: you know who the boss is, you know whom the CMO and interns are, but you don’t feel like anyone is “above” or “below” you. Startups truly feel and function like a team, because you’re all working towards the same goal: a successful, growing, thriving business. I have experienced very few negative “typical corporate atmosphere attitudes” (read: toxic environments) at the startups I have worked at, and am currently working at. No one is out to “get” another person because no one will “profit” – if anything, the startup will suffer, and then everyone loses. However, the same can’t be said for established organizations – there is far much more to gain (and lose) when there are many “I”s in the “teams” (which there are). Choose your poison wisely.
5. Your list of responsibilities may be lengthy. Let’s be honest – if they aren’t lengthy, you should be worried.
Rampton states that “you may be asked to do multiple jobs” and “startup jobs also include the same mind-numbing responsibilities that the big companies have.” I agree. Like I stated in point 3, you won’t know any specifics unless you go on an interview and ask questions. There is no negative to either situation, it just depends on what you prefer. Do you like wearing multiple hats or knowing exactly what you have to do? I’m the first – I love unpredictability, I thrive off of not know what is going to happen next, I enjoy constantly ‘getting my feet wet’ in different areas and always learning and experiencing new things. Then there are others who don’t like change; they need structure and a guide to follow, which is perfectly fine, too.
It also depends on what, and how much, you want to get out of your job and how you see your future. I personally don’t think maintaining status quo is something that should be strived for – I think you should always be challenged, and challenge yourself, in anything and everything that you do, otherwise you don’t learn or grow.
As I mentioned in point 4, startups (should, I hope) welcome constructive criticism and valuable feedback. New ideas need to be thrown around, inspiration boards need to be created, trends need to be followed and implemented. If you want to wear a different hat or sombrero or baseball cap, or try on a new one, perhaps of a different size, let someone know. Trust me when I say that you will only get out of your experience what you put into it, so prove your worth and make it priceless.
Stay tuned for part II…