For many, working in a start-up is not so much a job as a kind of mission – a crusade, almost. They align with the vision. They see the sunny uplands, and how to get there. And they dismiss the downsides as mere blips to overcome, and if they are lucky, it all works out great. An outsider may see start-up founders as naïve careerists brimming with optimism, but that's not all there is to working at a start-up.
Grow, grow, grow your company
Working for a well-established, stable and successful business can be a bit boring in many ways. The company has found a formula that works, and it sticks to it. There often isn’t too much innovation; just follow the formula and collect the pay cheque at the end of the month.
A start-up is different. Creativity and innovation are essential ingredients. There’s a need (and a will) to grow as fast as possible. Working at breakneck speed can mean making a bad decision, which can lead to disaster. Or it can mean surfing in the flow, ever onwards to glittering success. Regardless, you have to learn from whatever you're doing, at all times.
Hype builds hype
If you don’t like change, often sudden change, then working at a start-up is probably not for you. Flexibility is a necessary trait for start-up employees. Unlike the well-established, stable company where a proven formula dictates everyday life, the start-up often goes in whichever direction seems to offer the fastest route to success. Changes are inevitable.
Start-ups can have an almost cult-like appearance to the outsider. Employees can sometimes speak with a cultish kind of certainty. The vision is carried aloft as a sparkling bright star of hope and inspiration. When the goal is to build a successful company from a scratch, that vision is key. After all, the entrepreneur can't afford to hire someone who's in it just for the pay, when sharing the same inspiration and mission ultimately drive the growth of the company. Hype builds hype.
When the successful start-up finally melds into a stable, ordinary company, some will yearn for the reckless, enthusiasm-driven days when the start-up was young. For them, it was the thrill of the chase that mattered most, and many of them return to the start-up life by founding a new company based on another innovation.
From rags to riches
Working at a start-up is often a young person’s game. There can be risk involved. Start-ups can collapse very quickly if things go wrong. It’s common that the salary is less than perfect, though there’s usually the promise of better days ahead. Start-ups are usually strapped for cash in the early days.
However, when a start-up is successful, they tend to be highly successful. The long hours for little pay, the constant changes and uncertainty, all become worth it. The risk pays off, and you’ve kick-started a dazzling career that just keeps getting better.
You can learn a lot through working for a start-up. You’ll be hired because your proven skills match the job description. But you’ll probably find yourself doing all kinds of other jobs too. Broadening your experience can lead to pleasantly unexpected opportunities.
With an established company, you’ll have to climb the corporate ladder in the expected hierarchical way. With a successful start-up, if you were there from the start, you might find yourself being fast-tracked to an executive position in a matter of just a few years. Only a start-up offers that kind of flexibility and the possibility to adopt all the skills it would otherwise take much longer to accumulate.