Are you the tireless entrepreneur that has or will start many businesses and can never work for anyone? Or are you the kind that’s happy to work a career job? I’m neither, I work for a startup. I’m neither the samurai nor the rice picker. I’m like the samurai’s PA. And I’m here to tell you it’s a pretty cool gig. Jump on in, the water’s fine.
The benefits of working for (not founding) an early stage business:
- Reduced financial risk, get a modest salary, but still have some equity.
- Build something of true value and help “change the world”. The ability to do early stage product development, experiment and change things on a whim is awesome. This is what normally attracts people to start their own business but I get to do heaps of this (and in the past 6 months, more than the founders themselves).
- Get a taste of that edge-of-seat startup feeling without the immediate pressure the founders experience like when raising funds or doing presentations.
The best way to find such a job is not on Seek or other large job sites. What I did was get involved in the startup community a little and find those people that always seem to be working on great product ideas. On your part, I think it’s essential to demonstrate some level of being able to get shit done, whatever that means in your line of work. Now, this whole process can take a while. Even if you find a cool startup, they may not have the capacity to hire, or the timing is just not right. On the subject of getting shit done, your ability to keep yourself afloat until a good opportunity presents will surely hold you in good stead. But bottom line, I can’t give you the recipe for success, just take the opportunity when it comes.
In order for all of this to work you have to get equity in the company. This works both ways. If the owners aren’t willing or able to give equity, they aren’t incentivising you correctly. If you ask for high pay and no equity, you aren’t showing that you believe in the idea or are willing to share in at least some of the risk.
Joining a startup also helps concentrate talent. By joining a startup, you are helping solve the employment problem (no I didn’t say unemployment). You hear about unemployment all the time, but at least in Melbourne, in my experience, tech businesses are finding it hard to find good people. Everyone seems to have their own business, even if it’s just consulting. Young techos seem to be very concerned about their personal brand and missed opportunity to pursue their own ideas. But it’s so easy to start a business now which means everyone’s doing it. As a result, I worry that talent is spreading itself too thin, at least for product businesses. You have to have some faith that instead of starting a new business, that by joining another team, the outcome will be greater than the sum of its parts. At the end of the day, it’s better to be a small part of something big than a big part of nothing.
Is this all I will ever do? Of course not. I might go on to fail at another business idea in the future. Or make some more quick cash doing client work. But right now, the grass seems very green right here.
Plug warning (ie: you can stop reading now)