Should you be working with startups?

For me, working with startups has been a huge learning experience. Over the last two and a half years I’ve experienced working both in-house and as a consultant for two startups, as well as recently agreeing to provide my services to a third. I’m still very much in the early stages of my journey but my experiences have already taught me a lot, and hopefully I can pass on some of the knowledge I’ve acquired.

If you’re thinking about working for a startup but have no previous experience and are unsure what to expect, there are a few things that you need to know:


Overnight success is a myth


We often hear about startups that seemingly come out of nowhere, go on to do big things and are hailed as overnight successes. However, the truth is that these success stories are often built on the back of years of hard work, struggle and any number of previous failures.

Take video game developer and entertainment company, Rovio Entertainment, for example. They spent 8 years working on other games and were close to bankruptcy before finally hitting it big with Angry Birds, which went on to become the best selling iOS game ever.

The fact is that these things take time and although it won’t happen overnight, Rovio’s story is proof that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.


Pay isn’t guaranteed


Everybody has to start somewhere, and most founders start out with nothing but an idea and a bit of cash to get the ball rolling. This usually isn’t enough to pay their team a proper wage, if anything at all. Instead, when joining a startup early on, you will often have to make agreements to work in exchange for shares or on the promise of a lump sum once the company secures enough investment to be able to reward you for all those unpaid hours.

Unfortunately, success isn’t guaranteed, so there’s always a chance that you could end up with nothing in return but a memorable learning experience. This is why before choosing to work with a startup you must ask yourself whether you truly believe in the idea and have faith that the team has what it takes to make the business a success.


Don’t get your hopes up


Imagine the scenario. You’ve joined a startup and you’ve been working tirelessly for months on end when finally you get that phone call – “Great news! Someone said they’re going to invest enough money to see us through to launch!”.

It’s exactly what you’ve been waiting to hear, so nobody can blame you for wanting to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate the occasion, but don’t reach for the champagne just yet.

There’s a big difference between someone saying they’re going to do something and actually doing it. I’ve experienced it on many occasions now where a promise of investment has never materialized. The reasons why vary, but ultimately the result is the same and it can be very demoralizing. This is why it’s important not to get your hopes up, but at the same time remain positive and continue to move forward.

Even if a deal falls through, it’s not the end of the world, something even better could be waiting just around the corner.


Do it for the right reasons


If the news of multi-million dollar acquisitions by the likes of Facebook and Google is tempting you to work with a startup then you might want to rethink your plans. Not only are the chances of this happening to you very slim but it also shows that your priorities are all wrong.

We can all dream about deals like the one Facebook made with Instagram, but that shouldn’t be your primary driving force.

It’s like making the decision to go freelance. People leave well paid jobs with little to no client base in order to pursue a career as a freelancer, but why do they do it? Ask most freelancers and the first reason they’ll give you is because they get to choose who they work with and what projects they work on. It gives them the freedom to carve their own path.

The same principle should apply to working with startups. In the beginning you’ll have nothing to work with but a general idea and a blank canvas. What should be driving you is the desire to use it to create something that will have an impact on people’s lives, whether it’s made to entertain them, make their life easier or provide them with the tools to make an impact in their own way. Whatever it is, you will have the opportunity to help shape the outcome.

The point is that in the beginning the product should be your main concern. Once you’ve got that right then you can start thinking about the financial rewards.


Overcome your fear of failure


Nobody likes failing and sometimes the thought of it can scare us, but a little bit of fear never hurt anybody. However, if you find that your fear has become so overwhelming that it’s holding you back and stopping you from taking risks, then you need to do something about it.

This persistent fear of failure is also known as Atychiphobia and often leads a person to live a constricted lifestyle. The causes range from growing up with demeaning parents or family members, to experiencing a single traumatic event as a result of a past failure.

If you suffer from it, it’s likely that you will have been carrying this fear around with you for some time, and while whatever past experience that triggered your fear may not have been your fault, you have to remember that the problem is a subconscious one. You are the one responsible for how you deal with it. If you let it get the better of you and stop you from pursuing potentially very rewarding opportunities then you will only have yourself to blame.

Although there is no quick fix, ultimately the solution lies within your own mind. You just have to be willing to change the way you think about failure and learn to cope with it in a more positive way. This can be achieved through various methods of self-help and there’s plenty of information available online to help you get started.

It is easier said than done but the sooner you start making steps towards overcoming your fear, the sooner you will be on your way to unlocking your full potential.


Be prepared to take on other roles


This only really applies to those thinking about working in-house, but even though you may get hired for having a particular set of skills, which you will use to fulfil a certain role, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be given other responsibilities.

A small team has a lot of ground to cover and there can be lot to think about, especially in the early days. Who’s going to keep track of finances? Who’s going to look for the best deals on furniture and equipment? Who’s going to do the research on potential investors? Who’s going to make the pitch? Who’s going to manage the social media accounts? The list goes on.

After all, it’s a team effort, and being flexible will make you a valuable team player.

Temporarily wearing a different hat may even teach you a thing or two.


There will be creative differences


When you’re working within any team there’s bound to be some differences of opinion, and things are no different at a startup.

It’s safe to say that everyone’s main goal will be to build a successful product, but the chances are that they will all have different ideas about how to do it. Due to this, it’s inevitable that conflict will arise from time to time. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing and it shouldn’t be something you shy away from.

It’s actually far better for you and the team to be open and honest about how you feel about something rather than keeping your opinions to yourself. People may not agree with what you have to say but there’s value in different points of view and it can make you think about problems differently, which can lead to new and innovative solutions.

A team that’s not afraid to challenge each other will ensure everyone is encouraged to stay at the top of their game and this will not only benefit you as an individual but it will also allow the team to perform more effectively as a whole.


It’s a life changing experience


As I said at the beginning I’m still very much in the early stages of my journey but I know that no matter what happens, whether I succeed or fail, the experiences have been invaluable.

I’ve acquired skills and learnt lessons that will stay with me for life and make me much better equipped to deal with whatever challenges may lie ahead.

Now, the important question is what lies ahead for you?

Have you worked with startups? What has the experience taught you? Let us know in the comments.

  • HemanthMalli

    Well written article. I enjoyed reading it !! I like working with start up companies where we get chance to use our skills and creativity to build exciting new businesses and also we have chance to share our ideas and execute them. Ultimately we can learn and grow with the company and gain lot of experience.

  • Brett

    We worked with startups for the first four years of our web design business and it was a huge mistake for us. We certainly did learn a lot, but we were losing money by charging per project. The startups just require too much hand holding and we would end up doing far too many tasks for free. If they don’t have a thought out business plan and a budget in mind, we do not waste out time ot theirs.

  • elaelation

    Well, I just start working with a startup for 2 months and I admit I have the fear of having a little income. But I found a very fun workplace & a lot of creative people here, I think the key to work with startup is we have believe and faith to the team’s value & vision. Very inspiring article, and what I like the most is this point : “What should be driving you is the desire to use it to create something that will have an impact on people’s lives”

  • Divya

    Article is wonderfully written…I quit MNC to work in a startup last year and have learned much more in 1 year then what i learnt in my 5 years of MNC experience…Obviously there is risk..i am doing a gamble and at times i become insecure..but the learning which i am attaining cant be learnt in any school or MNC..Its only by balancing a small boat in a wild sea, we can learn to become good sailors..

  • Bianca Board

    As some one who has successfully got their small business off the ground, I can completely relate to this article. Now I’m in a great position to work with lots of small startup web design businesses, and it’s been a great journey (if with mixed results). The best you can do is give them the best support and advice possible, it’s up to them and their passion as a businesses as to whether they will succeed or not.

  • Sam Jones

    Thanks for your comments everyone, it’s been great to read about all of your different experiences (good and bad).

  • Specctr

    Great advice. “Don’t get your hopes up” is also something startups will learn when dealing with B2B sales, where companies will express initial interest in your product but nothing will materialize.

    Some people are not comfortable saying “No” and will often lead you on rather than express what they want. An important skill is being able to recognize this so you can focus on legitimate leads.


  • Casey Kurlander

    Great article! I’ve worked for a start up for the last two years. While I personally love it, I’ve seen many people come and go because it wasn’t for them or they weren’t up for the challenge. I recently wrote a similar article giving people things to consider before going to work for a start up to give them an idea of what it’s really like: