3 wrong reasons to join a startup
Some startups are great places to work. Others are terrible. Having the right reasons for joining one will help you pick out the gems and weed out the bad ones. So here I give you, in no particular order, 3 wrong reasons to join a startup.
1. Because they have a ping pong table
A ping pong table is a symbol for the informal, playful culture that draws many people to startups. The problem is that anyone can buy a ping pong table. It is a lot easier to buy a table than to build a culture. Building an informal culture requires leading by example. It means listening to ideas and feedback from everyone in the organisation, regardless of role. It means trusting people to do their job. It means vigorously spreading information so employees can make the right decision. And that is not easy.
So how do you find out whether the ping pong table is window dressing or a real part of the culture? These questions will point you in the right direction:
- What do people do for lunch? Do they go out together? Do the founders and management have lunch with the rest of the team? Or does everyone eat lunch behind their desk, too stressed to take a break?
- When do employees arrive and leave? Can they come and go whenever they want, as long as their work gets done? Or is there a strict start and end time?
- When do the founders arrive and leave? They lead by example, regardless of whether their direction is good or bad. Do they come in early and leave late? If they do, others might follow and you can quickly land in a competition for putting in most hours a day.
The informal culture is a great reason to join a startup. I’m thankful every day for the fact that I don’t need to wear high heels to work. So please dig deeper and don’t confuse an object with a culture.
2. To ride their wave to success
Joining a startup is not an automatic guarantee for success, not even when it’s a unicorn. Joining a Startup is a high-risk high-reward strategy to advance your career faster than would be possible via other means. That should tell you two things:
- It is high-risk, meaning that there is a good chance your high level of input will not lead to success.
- It is a strategy, so to execute it correctly you will need to understand what you are doing and where you are going.
Described like this, achieving the dream of being a millionaire VP at SuperAwesomeCorp will not feel anything like riding a wave. It is more like mountain climbing, where you slowly work your way up a wall of granite, advancing in height through hard work and technical skill. This will be a lot more satisfying if you know why you want to reach the top of that mountain, which brings me to my next wrong reason:
3. You don’t want to work at a corporation
I’ll tell you a secret: the goal of every startup is to become a big corporation. Maybe instead of defining your goal in terms of what you don’t want, you can define them in terms of where you want to go. When you know where you’re going, it’s easy to take small stuff in stride. When you’re running away from everything you don’t like, anything that gets in your way becomes a reason to change direction.
Here’s how you can find out what you want, rather than what you want to run away from:
- Ask yourself what you think is bad about corporations. Do they do things that are not in line with your values? Is it their profit orientation? Do you dislike the size?
- Figure out what contrasts with these reasons. What values are important to you? Those can be an excellent guide for where you should and should not work. If you dislike a focus on profit, maybe an NGO or non-profit is a better fit. Are big corporations too big? Maybe a small business or boutique service are more your style.
Some startups are great places to work, some are terrible. Many are both at the same time. Having the right reasons to join will help you shoulder what’s terrible, and appreciate what’s great.
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