For a core of renegade final year students who aren’t running around trying to get into assessment centres, the startup way of life seems pretty attractive. It definitely did for me. Life at Debut has certainly given me considerable joy but, even so, the expectations I had for working in a startup and the reality didn’t match up quite the way I expected.
Startups work in a very particular way. And if you enjoy the structured way you worked at university, it might not be for you. If you’re up for the challenge however, here’s a few things you ought to know before you send your application off.
They’re still working out the kinks
At the root of most startups is the idea your CEO spent hours honing in their bedroom or back garden. Fortunately for you, they were just crazy enough to bring to life (not that our CEO is crazy or anything). The company that you are a part of is the realisation of a dream for them – and they are hellbent on making it as big as possible, as quickly as possible.
That may mean that, in the interim, a lot of things go unaddressed. What may be a slight structural issue at a big firm equates to pure, unadulterated chaos at a startup. Most have the problem of being too product orientated, which means stuff like benefits and human resources may have to go wanting while while they figure out the user experience flow for a tech feature. As long as you have the patience for things like this, you’ll be rewarded.
You’ll get less job security
In times when I lack careers inspiration, I turn to one of my all-time favourite movies – The Wolf of Wall Street. Bizarre as that may seem, there are plenty of valid lessons you can take from it.
For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character provided this little gem: ‘Nobody knows if the market is gonna go up, down, sideways or in circles.’ The same is pretty much true of a startup. For all the effort you may put in, but you never know when a more established competitor is going move into your market. Or when the focus of the business is going to change and suddenly, what you do isn’t needed any more.
You’ll work a lot of extra hours
Even if, like us, your company comprises of 15 people, you will likely be doing 150 people’s jobs between you. That means not only longer hours (I’m the only one of my friends that’s contracted 9am-6pm), but plenty of overtime, a lot of it unpaid.
Seems shocking, but startup environments are small enough that your own personal workload has an effect how the company does as a whole. Not only that, but you’ll be under scrutiny to keep the pace with your go-getter co-workers too. If you’re truly serious about reining in your work-life balance, you can definitely make it work.
You are not your job description
In a company that lacks a rigid structure and has less employees than a rugby team, you may be surprised to learn that – yes – you will be called outside your remit from time to time.
Our marketing team handles all our content, social and advertising during the day, while moonlighting as a customer service team, event planners and occasionally, dog-sitters. And should you need any extra training to fulfil an extra role, there isn’t much you can do in the absence of the hefty training budget they offer at big firms but try and learn on the fly. That may be fun and stimulating for someone new to the world of work, but you might hit a wall down the line.
The culture will change on you
Startups tend to attract idealists – bosses who try not to boss you too much, ragers against social injustice etc. It’s all well and good, but in a small company, those personalities create the company culture, which means the culture can and will change as the personnel does.
In a firm with more than 20 employees, you’re stepping into a place with standards, practices and preconceived norms. With a startup, there’s still a lot of virgin ground to cover where certain interactions and processes are concerned. What that does mean however, is you get a lot more say in the way things are run.
You’ll gain a lot of ground quickly
Things move at breakneck speed at a startup, and you may find the same thing for your career. I came into Debut as an intern and got a permanent position 3 months later. In a bigger company, it may have taken me six. There are people I know who have become manager a year or two after graduating.
Of course, a smaller company means more visibility so when you do well, other people can and will notice. Just beware, climbing the ladder too quickly can leave you bereft of proper development. If you want to work for a startup, being vigilant about your own growth. Once you do that, and you bear all these things in mind, there are plenty of benefits you can reap.