Things you need to let go before joining a startup

A lot of people want to join a startup. From the outside, it looks like a sexy thing to do (i.e. next to starting up your own company) and looks like a natural choice to be in the game. But, things are different and well, strange as well.

As a early employee of a startup, you have the same responsibility as the founding team and you are expected to do a lot more than what you have probably imagined. But we all carry the baggage of past and have a certain expectation of the future. In the early days of the startup, when there’s ambiguity and amorphousness about the company’s structure, roles and responsibilities, it is understandable when the founders and early team members do everything and anything possible to get the job done right, on time. After a while, as the startup grows, a more formal structure comes into being.

Happy Employees
Happy Employees

Based on my experience (of being an early employee at a startup to running a startup), here are a few pointers that you probably will have to let go, before joining a startup:

Ego.

Would you have ever imagined cleaning office, sending courier, running around government offices etc etc? Well, your engineering degree (or what’er/MBA etc) was way too fancy to shield you from such menial job. Moreover, the startup founder has a reason to do all the shit work (heck! its his company), but why should you?

And there is only 1 reason why should you do that : “You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” [Quote by Denzel Washington].

Excuses

“I can’t do this because <fill in the blank>”. Well, if you expect a perfect world, do not join a startup. It’s like saying ‘I want a girl-next-door’ – so maybe, you should just go next door?

Startups are amorphous and anything but perfect. There is an unorganized chaos and if you find yourself trying to poke holes/find excuses to not do things, it’s a reminder that you are better suited for a role somewhere else.

So go somewhere else.

Money, honey?

If all you are thinking about is how much do I make (vs. my friends working in Infosys/Yahoo/Google etc), you are comparing apples and oranges. In startups, even founders do not make a lot of money (read: Start-Up Salaries and Myths About Them). The fun lies in creating something, disrupting in your definition of the world and in the process, having fun, meeting other interesting people.

If all you look for is money, then go fish somewhere else. Agree that you need to make two ends meet, but expecting skyrocketing salary doesn’t really happen in a startup.

The “ONLY” Phenomena

If you are the one who is not a multi-tasking person, and want to stick to only 1 thing, you probably should join a company that is hiring for your skill set. Startups do not hire for skill set, they hire for attitude and ‘I can only do <X>’ doesn’t help. You need to move out of your comfort zone and do things which you have never even imagined [read: My first 90 days in a startup].

If all you are looking for is RoI (hell! what do I get by learning <X>, which isn’t even related to my core skill set), then you should never join an early stage startup. Join when the process is setup and you know what you are going to do.

The Sexy Title.

Titles are distributed randomly in a startup. From nowhere, you become ‘director of engineering’, ‘product manager’, ‘VP of sales’ etc etc., but ask yourself – do you even deserve the title?

If you are CTO of a small company, would you join Google as an entry-level engineer or somebody senior (after all, you were the CTO of a small startup!). Can you really handle same level of complexity (in Google/Apple) and justify the “CTO title”? Ask yourself.

And always remember that it’s never about the size of operation, but it’s the capability of the person that ‘title’ should stand for. (Recommended Read: Of Roles & Titles In Startups [First Deserve, Then Desire])

If you cannot live up to the title, then why are you even carrying it? Do a reality check and you will be fine.

If you are the VP, Sales in a startup and manage INR 20L/month of sales, can you also handle the complexity associated with managing INR 20 Cr when the startup grows up?

Quit. Or let go of the title. Better, fight to deserve the title.

Your Real CTC

You know your real cost to the company (CTC)? Apart from salary element, a person’s real cost to the company  is whether he/she is dependable or not. If you aren’t dependable, you are increasing the overall cost to the company as you are creating a process where the founder/senior members need to keep following up with you (on each and every small aspect).

This kind of attitude works in a big company (owing to the level of incompetency across the board) , but hiring in a startup is done with an assumption that

..You can be on your own.

You will eventually learn to run with the task you are supposed to do (+ tasks you aren’t supposed to do), without any followups.

Parting words

Startups are not fun, they are actually a paranoid-ic place to be in. And only paranoids survive this game. So be in for a bigger cause and learn to enjoy the bumpy ride.

And mind you, there is nothing wrong in working with a big company and the echo-chamber created by the likes of Pluggd.in (echo-chamber that startups are the next big thing) is frankly,  just another echo-chamber. If you are not in for a startup life, you are just normal.

In short, do not join a startup for the heck of joining one.

What’s your take?

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