Look before you leap: 5 questions to ask before you take that startup job


Working for a startup can be a great experience, but it can also be a disaster.

Startups are unlike other work environments you might have came across. They sound thrilling and alluring, and probably a number of them are, but if you haven’t worked for one before and you’re considering giving it a try, there are some things you should consider.

  1. Do you believe in the vision of the company?

Working at a startup is a major commitment.  To get through the long hours, pressure, and uncertainty that accompany startup life you need to believe in the mission and product of the company.   Are you trying to solve a real problem in society?  Do you have a product that can help or change the lives of potentially millions of people?  Would you buy the product? Are you trying to help businesses be successful in new and profitable ways?  A successful startup attracts people who share the same vision.  Make sure you do.

2. Do they have enough funding?

If a startup is venture-backed, it shouldn’t be too hard to find out who the investors are and how much capital was raised. (Google is your friend!) In many instances, these financial details are publicly available and if not, it is not inappropriate to ask. For bootstrapped and self funded startups, this line of questioning can be a little uncomfortable for younger employees. If you’re hesitant about this, then you can simply ask: What are the company’s capital-raising plans? This will provide you with a feeling for where the company stands. One thing to remember: There is no real substitute for cash in the bank. Though the founders may claim that they have several interested investors – that’s great, but it will not pay the bills.

3. Does management and specifically the Founders know what they are doing?

Job seekers above all need to research the organizational founders. Determine whether they’ve had previous successes and learn a little more about their professional backgrounds. Also, figure out some other extracurricular information about them that will help you make a decision – How did they meet? Have they worked together before? What brought them together for this particular opportunity?

Too many startups fall short not due to marketplace forces, but for the reason that founders simply could not come to terms on important issues. You should ask questions that help clarify whether or not the founders will likely get along.

4. What will the work environment be like?

Strategies could change without notice, depending on new information, ideas and advice, so adaptability is key. At the same time, a startup’s fast speed can lead to a high-stress environment. Your co-workers might dress like they’re going to the beach, but they’re most likely extremely serious and devoted to the company’s success. Startup teams are generally a very tight group. There’s no place to hide in a startup. So, if you don’t get along with almost everyone there, life is likely to be hard. You’ll quickly figure out whether you respect the founders and other team members in terms of their professional abilities and general intelligence, but just as essential as all of this stuff is the simple question of: “Do I like these folks?”. If you can’t see performing along side them for 70+ hours per week for several years, think hard about the opportunity.

5. Are the people I have met enthusiastic or delusional about the business?

It’s critical that members of the organization are both enthusiastic about the work they do, yet are also grounded in reality. Startups have a notoriously high failure rate so business objectives need to be clearly defined and strategy oriented around achievable goals. It’s all well and good to be excited about the endeavor, but that excitement must not obscure the directive of creating a successful business.

In all, working at a startup can be a great experience, but there are some pitfalls you should be aware of before taking the leap and accepting their offer.

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