Joining a Startup Vs Starting-Up: Part 1

It might seem like a logical first step before taking the plunge - but be warned → it isn’t the same thing!

About me: I was living the life. MBA from an IIM, dream job in a Fortune 500, leadership role, over delivery on every goal, much nonsensical hyperbole. You get the flow. But soon, the startup bug bit me. Missing a great idea and a ball, I decided to join a startup until I started-up. What came next was a series of rollercoasters and blind turns that no one told me about. Now I write to ensure that I maintain sole ownership of this excuse.

Part 1: What’s your narrative?

Moving to a startup will be everything you have imagined it to be. It will be long working hours, unstructured work environment, lack of resources and so on. Coping with these is the (relatively) easy part, since you’ve already anticipated them. It’s the small, everyday things that will most probably get to you. Here are some of my personal favorites:

#1 — No one tells you when to get up! It’s a real problem! If you’re working in a startup at a fairly early stage, chances are you report directly to the founder. Chances also are that this guy hasn’t hired you to keep a check on you. So in many ways, you have the worst of both worlds — no pressing need to get up, no fixed time for coming to office, yet a ‘boss’ who might have certain expectations on this topic! You might love late nights, and if you were the entrepreneur you might justify getting up late by reminding yourself that you were working till 5am. But you’re not sure if that cuts it!

#2 — The perks (absence of) hurts more than the money : Before joining, you’ve already rationalized the pay cut. You’ve also assigned a fairly optimistic number to the ESOPs. But then it hits you.
The limit on phone bill reimbursement is 500 bucks — you’ve never seen a bill less than Rs. 2000. Petrol is reimbursed at Rs.5 a km — your car does only 8kmpl. You don’t feel like getting daily expenses reimbursed — yet fact remains they are straining your already strained budget.
Many a times, I’d caught myself reminiscing back to the good old corporate days. Days when taxi meant AC, offsite meant Bangkok and alcohol meant nothing less than scotch. There is a downgrade on all of these, and it keeps coming.

#3 — You can’t switch off — You might or might not take weekends off. But you definitely wont be able to switch your mind off. Shit will hit the ceiling and it wont check if its Independence day today. And you will need to solve it yourself. There wont be a reportee to call who will do it for you. And all this is par for the course. There aren’t any brownie points to be earned by working extra hard.

I will talk about these things in more detail in future columns. But if you look closely, all the above examples are manifestations of a single, fundamental problem.

What is your Narrative? How do you view yourself ?As the entrepreneur running the company or a high level employee helping the entrepreneur run it?

Depending on how you view yourself, the narrative of your journey changes completely. If you feel that you are as much the founder as the real one, all the above problems suddenly vanish. So what if you slept late, its your job to set the right example too — you’d better get up on time. Yes the bills are piling up, but that’s the cost of starting up. Every entrepreneur has to account for personal expenses when she is starting off. And weekends — what weekends? People in jobs want to switch off because they hate what they are doing and need a day when they don’t have to even think about it!

Two years of working in a startup, and I came to realize that switching to a startup, and staying there, is worthwhile only if you can change this narrative. I’ve seen people who jump thinking they will give 120% of what they used to as an employee. But that doesn’t work. Disillusionment sets in. And why shouldn’t it — the hours are longer, resources are scarce and the money is lesser! Only a mad man can rationalize such a situation. Or an entrepreneur!

PS: Flipkarts of the world don’t qualify as startups in my definition