The merits of working for a startup, and why you should do it (now)


Just in case any of you are "on the fence" about working for startup (or small company), I figured I'd share my thoughts on the merits of doing-so. First, let me say that everyone has a unique set of circumstances in their life that may either allow or prevent them from working for a startup or small company (Let's abbreviate this as SoSCs from now-on). That's a decision only you are knowledgeable enough to make. But I can say this much - if you're on the fence, here are some good reasons to consider it, as gathered from my own workplace observations and experiences. 1. Risk. I know what you're thinking: "isn't risk a bad thing? Don't I want to minimize risk as much as possible in my life?". Well, to some extent maybe. But with all things, there is a balance to be had. Have you ever engaged in a chat with a grandparent, family member, or observed through TV shows/movies that one of the "regrets" people seem to have is they "didn't take enough risk" when they were young and able? It's usually up-there with things like "I didn't save enough money" or, "I wish I had eaten healthier". I find this interesting, because we often talk about the time-value of investing with your money, but then where is the discussion on the time-value of investing with the quality of your life? I'm convinced there are many non-financial investments to make, and accepting a little career-risk early in your life is one of them. (After all, nobody's going to read your resume at your funeral).

2. Results. You've heard it before - especially with all the talk about us Millenials being motivated more by challenging, significant work than money and bonuses at our jobs. In a SoSC, it's all about the Third Law - every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Simple terms: when I do something good or bad in my startup or even at the small company I work for, I see the result almost immediately. Everything I do is (1) observed by those around me and (2) affects those around me. It's very logical when you think about it. A small group of people working together = recognition (for the good and bad). A prime example of the opposite is government/big corporation work. During the time I spent at NASA, I would talk to engineers that often waited over ten years to see their hard work finally come to fruition - or even worse, waited ten years to see that their hard work turned into nothing because the project got cancelled. These circumstances run rampant in big business and government work - so if you're a little impatient, here's one great reason to try a SoSC.

3. Challenge. If you work for a SoSC, you will likely find yourself engaged in work that you never went to school for. You'll be learning all the time (mostly because you have to). In a SoSC, the organization is rarely compartmentalized (e.g. HR, Accounting, Procurement, etc just doesn't exist). Often times you're the one doing the engineering, ordering the parts, meeting with the customer, balancing the budget, etc, and there is a lot to be learned from that process. If anything, this will give you a better appreciation and understanding of the people around you when and if you do work for a large organization some day. Not to mention it keeps you motivated, busy, and ultra-marketable in your next job-search.

4. Accountability. When you work in a small group, you instantly become accountable for your actions. In part, because it's hard to hide from your 3 co-founders/roommates in that tiny office you now share, but also because you're probably the only guy (or gal) assigned to the job. There's really no way to 'slip through the cracks' in a SoSC, which is very motivating for a young, enthusiastic Millennial looking the change the world. And you have to think that your next employer might take note of this as well. If they see that you've worked (successfully) at a SoSC, they will likely make the connection that you were a devoted, accountable, hard-worker.

5. Motivation. In a SoSC, your work = impact. Not to hate-on the government or large corporations, but I've seen plenty of people get stuck in a vicious cycle of: lack of results (fruit of your labor) + no accountability = no motivation (which in turn leads to no work-product...not good for the company either. Leads to that nasty thing called 'overhead'. Yuck). Now don't think this is all fun and games. In an SoSC, sometimes your motivation is: "if I don't do my job I won't get paid", or "if we don't write this report the VCs will pull our funding". But because of this, I have seen people come together and do absolutely amazing work under pressure. Which leads to my final point...

6. Team. My favorite part of college was working with other students on extracurricular robotics projects. Why? Because these were the students that were doing this work for fun. They genuinely loved what they were doing - these are absolutely the best people to work around. When I had an opportunity to continue working in this type of environment both with my startup and now with the consulting firm, I was thrilled. The comradery that is formed when you work with a small group of people that share in your purpose, accountability, (stress), and motivation is outstanding (and just a lot of fun). At some times, I feel as-if I'm not even working at a job, but rather like I'm back at school working on fun projects with my friends. So, despite the additional stresses that come with a SoSC, I believe they can be completely off-set by the nature of the work environment. After all, when you're going through a rough time, don't you usually run to your closest friends and family for comfort? Now what if your co-workers were like family? You get the point...

I think if you have a choice on how you spend over 99,100 hours (11 years) of your life, it's worth your time to calculate your risk-tolerance, take a few years, and work for a SoSC.