What are the pros and cons of working in a tech start-up in 2021?
You know that feeling when you go to a theme park to ride on the new “Super Intestine-Twister 4000” ride you’ve heard all about recently?
That feeling of nervous trepidation when you’re in the queue watching others racing through the ups, downs, twists, and turns, and wondering if you’ll enjoy it as much?
You see people walking out of the exit feeling exhilarated and wanting to go round again. But, you also see some people looking quite ill and searching for a discreet bit of landscaping to revisit their breakfast.
Working for a tech start-up can be a similar experience and it isn’t the best career move for everyone. Some people love and thrive on the journey, while others wish it had never happened.
Inspired by the giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon, the past 20+ years have seen an explosion of new technology businesses, particularly in the additive manufacturing world. Some of them made it through their start-up phase and are now significant players in their field. Others, sadly, didn’t survive.
So, when you’re faced with the opportunity to join a new tech start-up, which factors should you consider?
What is a tech start-up, and how can you spot one?
Start-ups are massively different organisations than established businesses. As such, they’re pretty easy to identify by the following characteristics:
You’ll see a small number of founders, typically 1-3 people.
The business will be either privately funded or using investors.
There’ll be low numbers of staff.
Their focus is on rapid growth.
All the employees will share a strong belief in the company’s aims.
Ultimately, they’ll tell you! In fact, they’re usually shouting about it from the rooftops as they’re proud of their idea to change the world and want everyone to know they’ve arrived.
Pros of working in a tech start-up
Vibrant Company Culture
This is one of the first things you’ll notice about the business. The founders will be wholly focused on their big idea and want everyone to share their vision. In a larger corporation, people are often attracted by status and compensation, but in a tech start-up, the early-stage employees often form a tightly-knit group who share the dream.
With a myriad of problems to overcome, the environment usually reflects the creative needs of the business. They want people to solve the complex issues that will turn their idea into reality. Pressure stifles creativity, and this can be reflected in a calm, relaxed atmosphere to allow people to innovate with freedom.
If the start-up is in its very early stages, it may not even have a dedicated workplace yet, and you’ll have to work remotely or meet up in (occasionally) odd locations. Don’t forget that Apple started in a garage!
Opportunities to learn
The nature of a start-up means that nothing is established, including departments and clearly defined job roles. As a result, everyone takes on functions outside their core area of expertise, which provides a unique opportunity to learn different skills.
Imagine being involved with Jeff Bezos when he first had the idea to sell books online. Then picture growing with his business to a top-level position now. Those are the real career opportunities that come with joining a start-up in its infancy. With fewer employees at the start, it’s also easier for your achievements to stand out and be recognised.
Start-ups don’t always have a dedicated place of business, so it’s a great option if remote working suits you. If you’re used to an office environment, it’s an opportunity to learn a new skill set by working collaboratively from different locations. But it isn’t only the location that’s flexible as your working hours are unlikely to be a standard 9-5. Start-ups tend to accommodate early risers or night owls, as the focus is on achieving the goal rather than when and where it happens.
Being a key member of an innovative start-up launching a new, disruptive product or service gives you unique knowledge that nobody else has yet. If the company succeeds and becomes well-known in the industry, those accolades will follow you all through your career. For example, Rob Janoff was an unknown graphic designer working for a small agency who handled the start-up Apple account. He designed the Apple logo and, within his industry, he is known forever as the man who put the bite in the apple.
Cons of working in a tech start-up
Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room first. Many start-ups fail. Despite their revolutionary ideas and desire to launch their product or service, the lack of experience in running a business can prove to be too much for some founders. So, there’s risk attached to working in a start-up. However, there’s also risk working in an established business. It all depends on your appetite for risk and personal situations.
Someone with a family, mortgage, etc., may prefer the perceived security of joining a mature business. In contrast, someone with fewer ties may be happy to jump on the rollercoaster ride.
Start-ups are often faced with a dichotomy. They need people with specialist skills, but those skills tend to come with a high price tag. Usually, there’s a negotiation between the company and employee to find an acceptable level for both parties. The payoff for the employee is likely to come in the future growth of the business, so the company may decide to offer equity (shares) in the business for the strategically essential employees.
If you’re looking for a standard 9-5 job, a start-up probably isn’t the right place to work. As the new business will only have a rudimental structure and face demanding deadlines, there may be some long days for you. However, the ethos will always be to do whatever needs to be done, which doesn’t always happen in a neat eight-hour window.
By its nature, a start-up will change significantly during its lifetime. Some people thrive on change and a dynamic environment. However, others prefer stability and predictability with minimal changes to their daily routine.
Wearing many hats
With strict budgets to adhere to, start-ups don’t usually employ a full suite of staff, and there will be some gaps. As such, everyone is generally expected to play a part in covering multiple roles, from cleaning up to answering the phone. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life in a startup, so if you think you’re above going out to grab a round of coffees, it’s not going to suit you.
Start-up life is like a rollercoaster. It’s scary, unknown, but exhilarating and rewarding. So, when you’re faced with the opportunity to join one, think carefully about the points we’ve discussed. Candidates should use their job interviews to ask questions to mitigate the risk of joining. Don’t be afraid to ask about the company’s investment funding levels, structure, ambition, future growth, and expectations.
Similarly, start-up employers should anticipate the hesitance some candidates may have and make sure they’re prepared to answer their questions as fully as possible.
Kensington Additive is a recruitment agency specialising in working with start-up and established additive manufacturing companies worldwide and can advise companies and candidates accordingly when considering start-up life.