Why Exactly Do You Want to Work for a Startup?

This is an Influencer post by Dustin McKissen

I am the owner of a startup – though we don’t have stock options, aren’t seeking investments, and no one, including me, is likely to cash out a millionaire, unless it’s from one of the lottery tickets I handed out as Christmas bonuses. (Just kidding, we don’t really do that—but it’s still the most likely way anyone is going to become a millionaire working for McKissen + Company, at least for the foreseeable future.)

Life in a startup is exciting, but it is also frequently frustrating, emotionally and physically draining, and occasionally, like a lot of jobs, even boring.

Life in a startup is exciting, but it is also frequently frustrating, emotionally and physically draining, and occasionally, like a lot of jobs, even boring.

In addition to owning a startup, my wife manages a rapidly growing startup incubator. Her incubator is located within a couple of miles of a decent sized university, which means all of the companies in the incubator (mine included) have access to a talented pool of potential interns.

One of the things I hear frequently from these students is that they want to work for a startup – and too often, in my experience, the reasons why the person making the statement wants to work for a startup are never clearly articulated.

And unfortunately, as the person listening to that statement, I may end up assuming you want to work for a startup for all of the wrong reasons.

Two Pieces of Advice

If someone says that he or she wants to work for a startup, but can’t really articulate why, I usually assume it’s because they have bought into an image where everyone wears whatever they want on their way to becoming rich. They envision a career filled with cool workspaces, stock options, and the absence of the stifling corporate norms so many people have to live by.

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Anyone who has ever worked for a startup knows the reality. Life in a startup is exciting, but it is also frequently frustrating, emotionally and physically draining, and occasionally, like a lot of jobs, even boring. It’s exciting to get a new client, customer, or investment (which sometimes happens), it’s frustrating to hear the word “no” (which you’ll probably hear more than you hear the word “yes”), and it can even be a little boring when you are stuck at a point where you are waiting to hear “yes” or “no” before you make your next move.

And the likelihood that you’ll ever get rich as an employee is very, very slim. First your company will have to beat the extraordinary odds against success—and then there is always the chance that you end up like the employees of Good Technology, who found out the (really) hard way that even a buyout from a large suitor can leave you owing money.

So, why, again, would you even want to work for a startup?

Here are a couple of good reasons:

  1. Even if you are unlikely to get monetarily rich from working at a startup, you will get learning opportunities that are hard to match. I began my career at a startup nonprofit, and was immediately put in charge of fundraising. Was it because of my fundraising skill? No. Other than my parents I had never asked anyone for money in my life. I was put in charge of fundraising because there was no else there to do it. You will not get the opportunity to author a marketing plan for Google straight out of college – but you may get the opportunity to author a marketing plan for some crazy company who has decided to “out-Google” Google.
  1. By working for a startup you may get the opportunity to have a big impact on a company that aspires to make a big impact. In the past year I’ve met founders who are attempting to solve a variety of problems by creating a for-profit company. I’ve met founders who are trying to address problems like PTSD, obesity, and the frequently poor relationships between tenants and landlords. Each of these startups is a for-profit company, but if they succeed they will make money and have a social impact. Even if they don’t succeed, everyone on these teams will know that at some point they took a run at having a big impact on a big problem.
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If you get the chance to talk to a startup founder and/or his or her team, don’t say, “I want to work for a startup”. That statement is kind of meaningless.

Instead, talk about how you can help that startup make its big impact, and why that matters to you.

If you do that you may get the chance to do big things, even if you never make big money.

Disclaimer: This is an Influencer post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire and the editor(s). This article was initially published here

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