Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. These and other billionaires like them sit atop the pinnacle of success in capitalist America. They managed to take their ideas from infancy all the way to the corporate behemoths they are now. Somewhere along the way, the idea of working for a startup has been idealized. As young workers enter the workforce, they are no longer drawn to big corporations by their stability and their certainty, but they are instead drawn to startups. Believe it or not, but according to a survey by Accenture from 2016, a mere 14% of college grads in the US want to work at a large firm compared to 44% who want to work in a startup or other small business.
Pros and cons of working at a startup
Before you get dead-set on working in a startup, there some important pros and cons to carefully consider. It is a lifestyle that isn’t meant for everybody, regardless of how exciting or lucrative it may appear to be from the outside. So, before you jump into it, set some reasonable expectations for yourself and reflect thoughtfully about whether or not you think you would thrive in a startup environment. Below I’ll dive into a few of the pros and cons you ought to reflect on.
Wearing multiple hats
Since every startup is resource-constrained, every team member will necessarily have to wear multiple hats. You will have to do some things you are great at, some things you are bad at, and some things you have never done before- this means you will learn A TON. At the same time, there will be a lot of responsibility put on you. You will have to work on many different mission-critical projects whose success or failure rests on your shoulders. This can be incredibly exciting and rewarding if things go well, but it can also be frustrating and emotionally draining if things don’t go as planned. P.S. This should be exciting if you really want to work in a startup.
Lack of structure
One of the biggest challenges, especially for recent college graduates, is the lack of structure at startups. They are coming from an educational world in which their goals were clear and defined, and they had close supervision from their professors, coaches, or parents. You are then dropped headfirst into an environment in which goals constantly change or are unclear and there is no one to tell you “do exactly xyz to get an A.” This lack of supervision is guaranteed to be quite stressful and challenging to adjust to.
Meanwhile, this lack of structure means that you will be given unique freedoms. Freedom to attack problems your way. Freedom to operate in the manner which works best for you. Freedom to take the lack of structure you are forced into and build whatever structure (or lack thereof) that you need.
Do I have what it takes?
This is a tough question to answer. Everybody wants to say they can withstand whatever is brought against them. Everyone wants to tell themselves that they are capable of doing whatever they need to accomplish their goals. The simple reality, however, is that some people will be able to while many will not. It will take some serious mental maturity. “Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty,” and regardless of the size, stage, or industry of the startup you go work for, you will have to endure a lot of uncertainty.
When things look like they are collapsing around you (this point comes for every startup) you and every other member of the team will need to be able to cope with the uncertainty of what comes next. You get to choose if you let these moments be nothing but anxiety-inducing and crippling or to instead attack them with unrelenting positivity and action. In these moments where you have seemingly no control, you get to control how you react and respond. This is where a startup wins or loses.