What stage of startup is right for you?

Business by on March 15, 2007 at 7:02 am

Andy has a good post on the timing of joining a startup. He makes this recommendation:

Everyone tends to think it’s best to join a company at the beginning. And personally, I prefer it — I’ve got a passion for those birthing days. But as I think about the situation with this candidate, I gotta say, there’s a lot to be said to coming in when the birth is over and the business is early and clear. I’d recommend anyone who is considering joining an early stage company to give thought to what age and level a company is at prior to joining.

Startups, particularly venture backed startups, can be very different beasts depending on their evolutionary stage. Different people are most effective at different stages (including many founders), and determining where you fit is key to your happiness.

People that join a startup that is too young for them say things like:

  • Where’s the org chart?
  • Sure, I’d love to see your ratecard
  • That wasn’t on my calendar
  • Do we get President’s day?
  • That’s not my job
  • When are bonuses mailed?
  • We need to rewrite this from the ground up.
  • I think we need more branding spend

However, a large number of people make the opposite mistake - they’ve read blogs and stories detailing extreme examples of startup life. They then find that they don’t have the input, impact and flexibility that they expected. Often they realize that their shiny new startup job isn’t really all that different than their dull big company position. They were hired to be a role player, not the gunslinging coder or guerilla marketer.

Startups rarely match their sterotypes (does anyone). More often than not, people set their expectations about the first startup they join based on preconceived notions that have nothing to do with that company. If you’re thinking about taking the leap, spend some time understanding the environment you’ll be in, and do some soul searching to see if it is right for you.


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