The start-up life: 6 lessons learned from my 9 years with start-ups

TLDR: I spent a major chunk of my career with a funded start-up. So, when someone asked me for career advice on joining start-ups, I tried to come up with a few things you should consider before jumping into the start-up life.

It was 2005 when I joined a start-up fresh out of the college. It was a time when start-ups were yet to become sexy.

Facebook was just a year old, and Twitter; yet to be launched.

When a start-up came to our campus, only a handful of us showed interest and only three of us decided to join.

Two of them left for larger companies within six months. There were others from different B-Schools.

None of them lasted more than six months! The start-up life was not for them.

It has been now 16 years since my first job and almost half of my years I have spent working with start-ups.

My current employer is though not technically a start-up, the initiative I handle is pretty much like a start-up,

With recent media focus on start-ups, there is a lot of interest among young people on joining start-ups.

However, start-up life is not for everyone.

So, when someone asked me for career advice on joining start-ups, I tried to come up with a few things you should consider before joining a start-up.

The start-up life is not for everyone

The start-up life is not for everyone
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Is the start-up lifestyle for you?

You need to first answer why do you want to join a start-up.

Is it for money?

Do you think start-ups are sexy?

If it is glamour money most probably, it’s not going to happen.

On average 90% of start-ups fail.

Therefore, you have a much better chance of earning more money working for a multinational.

A lot of people are not comfortable working in an unstructured environment.

They get frustrated in a start-up environment where things are changing at a rapid pace.

So, if you are someone who needs clear directions, a start-up probably is not the right place for you.

In a start-up working for 12 hours a day is quite normal. And you can work 12 hours a day only if you are passionate about what you are doing.

If you are OK with working for 12 hours a day in the basement while your friends work from 9–5 in a swanky office, the start-up life is for you.

Or else, find something different to do.

Taking credit for the work you do

take credit where's it's due
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

A start-up is a place where everyone does everything.

If you are good at your work and you are a nice person, a lot of people will come to you for help.

It’s an amazing thing.

You can learn so much just by helping others.

However, make sure that you take credit for the work you do.

Don’t act smug, don’t look for return favors, but make sure that others understand that it took your time and effort.

I was too shy to take credit for the small things but at the end of the day even small tasks accumulate and end up taking a big chunk of your time.

Politics exists, even in the start-up life

Politics exists, even in the start-up life
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

The start-up life is not free from organizational politics

You need to understand that at the end of the day start-ups are organizations too.

Therefore, they too have dynamics like groups, power centers, heroes, and so on.

Understanding the dynamics will help you to work more efficiently.

Understand the terms of employment before jumping into the start-up life

Understand the terms of employment before jumping into the start-up life
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Have a clear understanding of what you are signing up for.

Have your documentation in place. Read and understand them.

If you don’t understand anything get it clarified from the HR.

Let’s take an example.

If you join a start-up, you will probably earn less compared to an established company.

Instead, you get stock options to compensate for the gap.

Understand clearly what you are entitled to.

For how many years you must work before you can exercise your options?

What happens if you leave early?

In my case, though I have ESOP from one of my employers, I have no idea if I stand to earn if that company ever goes public because I never asked those uncomfortable questions.

Get into the habit of getting things documented

get things documented
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

In the rush of start-up life, you tend to do things on a verbal agreement.

However, get in the habit of summarizing actions and concluding them in the mail.

In one of my early projects, I got a verbal estimation from a product manager and submitted a proposal based on that.

When we got the project, he flatly denied our conversation and I was in big trouble.

Learn to maintain a task list

maintain a task list
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This one sounds boring but is immensely helpful.

When you are supposed to do multiple things a simple task list brings sanity to the chaos.

Research proves that unfinished tasks tend to take up a lot of mental energy.

You keep thinking about everything you need to achieve during the day and end up not doing anything.

A task list will help you to get mental clarity.

Eat that frog.

Start with the tasks that you don’t like but are necessary. For example, submitting expenses.

Once they are out of your way focus on your main tasks.

Conclusion

The start-up life can be extremely rewarding. You can accumulate knowledge and expertise that no big corporation can provide.

However, the start-up life is not for everyone.

In this post, we looked at 6 lessons I learned from my 9 years in start-ups so that you can take an informed decision.

Hope I didn’t scare you and will see you working for a start-up soon.


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Image credit: dgtportraits

Shyamanta

Employer Branding, Corporate Communication, and Social Media professional with nearly 16 years of experience across global corporations, funded start-ups, and nonprofit.

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