Want to Work For A Startup? Beware – It’s Likely a Bad “Job”

If you have been watching the startup space and think getting a job at one is the right thing to do at this point, reconsider. They aren’t great jobs in the sense that you might understand the word.

Here’s why:

Salary vs Budget

First up, too many people expect a salary – either slightly below market or even a jump over what they were last making.

The Startup Garage
The Startup Garage

It’s really much simpler. A startup founder hires when they must, for a business driven need – handling more customers, strategic growth, creating something better, etc. You’re an investment, and despite the criticality of the need and the value you bring to the table, there’s a certain budgetary constraint depending on where the startup is in it’s life cycle.

Do try and understand this aspect before you just demand a certain number.

Freedom vs Responsibility

Many join a startup (or even do one!) because they believe they have too little freedom to expand their horizons or experiment in their corporate jobs.

Now startup founders are smart people – in some aspect or another – and would have already been executing on a plan as you join. Sure, in a small team you have the space to question a lot, even change things fundamentally.

But you were brought on board so you could take on something on your shoulders and off someone else’s. That’s the main expectation! Freedom just happens to be a great byproduct of this – but again, it’s useful to see your role from the “give” point of view rather than the “take” one.

Output vs Outcomes

How much you get done in a day, or a week, or month is not enough. What happens because you got it done is.

Startups are often about experimenting furiously, proving hypotheses and making forward progress every single day, if only towards disproving something and closing options.

So the “How much do I need to do?” needs to be replaced with “How much impact can I drive?” This ties back to the point about responsibility.


You are unlikely to grow soon into a uber-specialist role where you build one thing over time for a large number of customers or huge datasets, or scale marketing of the same thing across continents, etc.

There may be no meaningful role changes or tags either. Sure, you may call yourself VP of sales but will still wait alongside frontline sales folks with an array of different titles from bigger brands when the time comes to meet customers. And as CTO/Head of Products, I have had to dictate over the phone step by step commands to let a paranoid customer check something in the logs on the server we installed behind their firewall at 10 in the night!

There’s new challenges everyday, and your ability to take them on, define business outcomes from those and drive them define your growth in a startup.


This, of course, is a function of what you’re looking to do. You’re just better off if what you derive satisfaction out of is directly or closely, traceably aligned with the business goals and again – outcomes – for the startup.

Opportunity vs Job

Yep, there’s a reason jobs are sometimes called “Opportunities”. For startups, it is ALWAYS true. You have the freedom to turn right around and state what you need out of it – each hire is a mini-incubatee in a sense.

And just like the founder is investing in you, the reverse is true as well. You need to believe in the opportunity, buy the vision/story/idea, and can choose to participate in the risk in return for some glory and gain. Not each startup founder will be equally willing to share, but that is part of the ‘buying’ process – you must figure how much flexibility you are looking for, and how much is available.

What is often said about startup ‘employees’ needing to be entrepreneurial is very very true. I have come across half a dozen startups in the recent past in various states of development, traction, financial stability who would be much better off with such folks on board.

So ask yourself if that’s the kind of ‘job’ you are looking for. Because if you really look at it from the above perspective, it isn’t a job at all, really.

[Image credit: shutterstock]

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