Everything You Need to Know About Thriving in a Startup Environment

So you think you want to work in a startup? You know a few people who do and they rave about it. You listen to “How I Built This” and think you have realistic expectations. You’re prepared for the grind, the long hours, and the sweet satisfaction of creating something new.

When it comes to thriving in a startup, we all like to think we have what it takes, but the truth is — it’s not for everyone. Below are four aspects of a startup environment, you should keep in mind.

You’re going to make less money.

Compensation is so much more than the dollar stipend on your paycheck. You probably already recognize that money is not the only motivating factor in your work. You find your time is measured in more than just dollars, but it also matters what you’re doing, what you’re learning, and who you’re working with.

A startup is most likely going to require a pay cut. That shouldn’t scare you off, however, if you think about the other compensation you’ll be gaining. What about the ability to make an impact? Shape a business from the start? Is the environment casual? Team-friendly? Are there opportunities for career growth? Learning new skills? Not to mention most start-ups are able to offer a portion of equity to early employees. Your hard work may be rewarded down the road.

You’re not going to be an expert.

It’s always nice to feel like you know what you’re doing — competent in your responsibilities. Startups contain an element of survival. What has to be done for survival becomes the priority. With few employees, you may find you’re asked to put different hats on and step up to a new task.

At first, it can be daunting, “I have a finance background, not go-to-market expertise!” Those that are able to step up to the challenge and attack new problems with vigor will be the ones who are most successful. Sometimes it’d be nice to feel like your skill-set is the perfect match for the role, but the truth is you will probably be asked to take upon new responsibilities. Go ahead, stretch yourself.

You’re going to have to embrace ambiguity.

“I don’t know?”

“I’m not sure?”

“I don’t think so?”

Looking for answers can be tricky. The secret is there are no proven methods — yet. You may still be discovering market-fit, your ideal customer, or how a process should run. If you’re looking for the answer, the truth is no one may have it.

If you’re able to thrive in ambiguous situations where it can feel a bit murky, a bit unclear, but you would love to find the answer, you’re going to do just fine. Those that thrive in a startup are passionate about trying to find the solution and aren’t afraid to fail while they try. Throw out the rule book and help write it.

You’re going to have to gamble.

It’s common knowledge that 9 out of 10 startups will fail. It’s a bit risky to take the bet that you will be one of the few who makes it. Often in our work, it becomes a natural tendency to internalize performance. You’re going to have to step out of the self-centric mindset. Even if you succeed in your role, the company may still fail for a multitude of reasons.

When gambling, you want to play to the best of the odds. The odds increase when you do your absolute best. The odds increase even more when you exceed expectations, go further than required, and ensure the business is set up for success over yourself. It’s a worthwhile gamble if you’re ready to check your ego, play the best odds you can wrangle, and remember that failure does not mean you didn’t learn.

If you think you’re ready to rethink compensation, gain new skills, shape a company, and believe in your mission, then you may be ready to thrive in a startup environment. Check out High Alpha’s portfolio companies’ open positions here.


High Alpha is a venture studio pioneering a new model for entrepreneurship that unites company building and venture capital. To learn more, visit highalpha.com or subscribe to our newsletter.