Taking the Leap—Pros and Cons of Working at a Startup

Startups seem here to stay. Newspapers run story after story about 20-something entrepreneurs who build billion-dollar startups, and culture promotes an ideal of hip offices sporting bubble furniture, intra-office Segways, and espresso machines shaped like Robby the Robot. In the same breath, hard work is no guarantee of success, and half of all new businesses will close within a few years.


So, is the startup world right for you? Part of that answer will depend on where you apply, but before you submit that resume, consider the following.

Risk And Reward

Startups fail. Some peter out over a couple of years, while others crash and burn spectacularly on the economic tarmac. The reasons are as varied as the companies themselves: lack of cash flow, poor marketing, bad pivots, and a product with no market demand. Whatever the reason, if you're looking for more stability, you may be better served seeking employment at an established company.

But startups can offer enticing rewards. Unable to provide large salaries and standard benefits, they will often compensate employees with stock options, profit sharing, sales commission, and other perks. In addition, starting at the ground floor with a company grants you a unique opportunity to innovate and has the potential to catapult you to the top if the company succeeds.

Hat On A Hat

Startups don’t have large teams, so their employees must complete any necessary task, regardless of job title. Do you see yourself as a specialist, a master of your field? Or perhaps you're uncomfortable working the business side because you’re all about product? If this sounds like you, consider a role at a traditional company.

If you’re up for the challenge, the many-hats environment of a startup has its advantages. Assisting in a wide range of tasks, from performing a human resource function one day to assisting development the next, will teach you the ins and outs of the company, increasing your value as an employee. Even if the startup ultimately fails, your resume will receive a serious infusion of skills.

Recognize The Skills

Everyone needs to pull their weight at a startup, but with fewer hands comes more recognition. Your successes and hard work will be readily evident to your colleagues, and your efforts will have a greater impact on the company environment as a whole.

Of course, your failures will be more evident, too. Make a mistake? Miss a quota? The structure of a larger corporation means more people to rely on and request help from, and the mistakes of a single individual won’t likely cause serious repercussions. Startups lack this room for error, magnifying your missteps along with your successes.

Work. Life. Balance?

Do you clock out with a Fred Flintstone-like zeal at five o’clock, every day, without fail? Then don’t send that resume to a startup. Most startups require employees to keep flexible hours. Maybe the company is pushing a new update over the weekend, or a client it can’t lose needs some assistance in the evening hours. Whatever the challenge, you must be willing to meet it in a timely manner.

To incentivize their employees, startups offer flexibility in return. Can only schedule a doctor’s appointment after lunch? Make up those hours at home. Worked an extra day during the weekend? Take an extra day off the next week. Many startups also try to provide other benefits, such as work-at-home options, in-office perks, and health programs to help their employees navigate the work-life balance.

In short, startups can’t grant the stable employment of established companies, and sometimes it takes more than Robby’s famous cinnamon mocha to make up for a long-term guarantee. But for those willing to work hard and take the risk, startups can provide a bounty of unique benefits, from new skills to chances for innovation. In the world of the startup, one person’s pro is another person’s con

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