The Evolution of a Startup & Bruce Lee! Part 2 - The Employer (mostly still the Employee)

In Part 1 of The Evolution of a Startup I discussed, the employee and change. The topic was around the inevitable changes a startup goes through and how you as the employee will need to adapt in order to survive.

There are many reasons people decide to work at startups. I’ve been in that world for most of my career because I love the challenge of a fast-paced growing organization where I can have an immediate impact and work closely with Leadership.

Courtesy of This is hilarious! Some would say very accurate of the day in the life of a startup!

On the flip side, startups who are looking to bring in talent are doing their own dog and pony show. The promise of fun office environments, happy hours, bouncy balls, bean bags, sooo many bean bags! But really, startups generally offer what a big corporation or firm cannot. You are part of the company, usually in the form of stock options. Very hands-on environment where you will learn a lot. The growth potential is tremendous. The wearing of multiple hats and most importantly being part of a vision that you believe in. That’s the dream that some startups can offer.

Of course there are downsides. For example, limited office space. Really long hours. Getting stretched thin (too many hats). Limited resources. Below market pay. The list can go on. Like everything in life there needs to be some balance or the belief that the success of the business will ‘alleviate’ the cons. To sum it up, in order for a company to hire and retain great talent, an employer must provide:

  1. The opportunity to grow.
  2. Hands-on learning & development.
  3. Feeling valued.

As an employee; this is what you MUST expect and want from an organization. Those three areas will forever propel a young professional’s career moving forward.

Let me paint a picture. A young startup is building out their business, they start recruiting and pitching the dream(see above). This is an exciting time! Passionate hardworking people are helping steer the ship. There’s ups and downs, but mostly everyone believes in the vision and the mission of the company. Life is good.

When looking at the trajectory of a company and an employee’s time there, I truly believe there needs to be a scale or balance that overtime can and should even out. If done right, it will look like something below:

A. Early stage: A lot of upside. Possible early seed funding and pre-Series A.

B. Growth Stage: Upside. Possible Series A funding. Allows the company to provide more resources. Scale moves up a bit.

C. Proven model: Still some upside. Possible Series B. Roles are more concrete. Promotions and updated org charts.

D. Established: Room to pivot. Not much upside. Possible Series C or ‘in the black’. Higher pay. New positions.

The next steps are critical. Do you as an employer keep it flat or do you tip the scale and revamp the growth/learning/development/value side? In my opinion, the latter.

There are plenty of companies out there that have successfully grown a business and retained their talent through a similar scale model.

Here’s the problem. Many have not.

There are many reasons why a startup fails at retaining talent. Some are leadership issues, weak market share, bad products and some are unforeseen circumstances. I believe most companies want the best for their employees, but that doesn’t mean it works out that way. The scale model below shows how companies start losing talent.

**Note: In this model, the first two stages are exactly the same as the previous model.

A. Early stage: A lot of upside. Possible early seed funding and pre-Series A.

B. Growth Stage: Upside. Possible Series A funding. Allows the company to provide more resources. Scale moves up a bit.

NOTE: Sometime before or after Growth Stage something happens.

C. Stagnation Stage: There is limited career path for employees. Employees are stuck, they feel like they are not valued. There are internal clashes. Product misalignment. Inexperienced leadership.

D. Red Flag Stage: Growth/learning/development/value has been completely neglected. Company has downsized. Consecutive re-organizations. New direction.

There will be a time in your life where you will have to make tough decisions. That’s just life. In cases like this, that tough decision will come in the form of your career. I know many people including myself that have committed and stuck around too long at a company in belief that things would change or that the company truly cares for you. The unfortunate circumstance is that sometimes those beliefs just don’t happen. Generally this is not a personal situation or malicious behavior by a company. It’s business.

My advice to leaders at startups, is always put your employees first. Always provide opportunities for growth, learning/development, and ALWAYS value your employees. Nothing is more demoralizing than an employee feeling worthless, especially an employee who is new to the workforce. That can be damaging for years to come. (Need some pointers? Reach out to me.)

YOU. The employee. Listen carefully. If you started at an organization with promise of growth, learning/development, being valued, and things begin to change, that’s normal. It’s expected. However, as the changes occur and you cannot see a clear career and development path, raise your hand! Say something. Understand why. The moment you start to feel that you are not being valued, say something! Understand why. (this is a post on it’s own!)

If there is any indication of the above and you are not being compensated, then you are not valued and the company does not want to invest in you anymore. It’s time to think about moving on.

No value/growth/learning/development + No raise/below market pay = Move on!

I leave you with this.

Courtesy of

Have feedback? Advice? Mentorship? Hate it. Love it. Please email me, or tweet me, @sabbanazhand.

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