Yasmin Desai, Business Development Manager from Catapult shares her experiences on the pros and cons that come with working in startups. Yasmin runs her own blog: www.thestartupgirl.co.uk where she shares her thoughts and experiences for working in startup companies.
As with any company, there come the pros and cons associated with the industry/structure/role/team that you are in. When considering the structure, this can affect many areas of your job more than you might think. Structure in startups can be defined as ‘flat’ ‘non hierarchical’ and ‘flexible’. But what do these really mean? And do they actually remain static for the duration of the company’s existence?
The truth is, the structure of a startup will change fairly often and it’s worth keeping this in mind, as the ability to work flexibly/work in a flat organisation may become less or more enticing as the company grows. Over the course of the company’s growth, departments and teams may be implemented. The structure may also change towards becoming less flat and more hierarchical. The biggest factor that will affect this rate of change is the number of people on your team.
If you’re new to startups or haven’t worked in one before, you can scour Google and find some of the common pros/cons. These can include flexibility, high responsibility, the ability to work on something new and exciting, the chance to mould your own role according to your skillset, the opportunity to grow at a rapid rate etc. What is sometimes more difficult to find, is the real benefits and disadvantages that will apply everyday in your job. Here, I’ll be unfolding some of the common and less common pros and cons so you can have a clearer understanding of what it really is like to work in a startup.
Looking at job posts from startups, you’ll often find a company description & benefits that usually list some of the following:
Too much work and too little people = lot’s of responsibility. It doesn’t get any simpler than this. However, this responsibility usually brings with it the ability to have input in other areas of the business. Your role may be to work on the marketing, but you may also have input on the daily operations or finance for example. This is more common when a company is in their launch to product/market fit stage, as roles are sometimes still undefined.
Often you will hear culture described as hands-on, exciting, fast-paced, fun etc . This is true for most companies and culture will have it’s place especially when the team is small. At Catapult, we have a culture of being hard-working, fun, honest and proactive. You can see how this takes place everyday, from the staff coming in early or working late, the friendly atmosphere and busy vibe, ideas being shot around all the time and for me, that’s what makes work more exciting to be a part of.
The chance to work on something exciting
There’s a unified sense of building something for a real purpose of which the feeling is indescribable. Being part of a small group who really believe in something can be a huge motivator especially during the not so good times in a start up.
Here are some of the less known pros:
Often underestimated, perks are usually a given in a startup and will vary between company to company. Common perks include, free lunches/team dinners, free fruit basket, free snacks, expenses paid taxis if you work late and access to conferences/events. If you’re in a coworking space, it’s a win-win situation, as the space will usually always provide socials and networking opportunities. Catapult is based at Net.Works, so we also get to make the most of their Tuesday ‘teatime’, Thursday drinks and Friday brunches – thanks Net.Works!
The ability to perform (on your terms)
I’m a big believer of proving your ability first and then reaping the rewards, and this is something that is often misunderstood in startups. There are so many unknowns in startups and therefore the risks are high and often you will be advised against doing things in a certain way. However, this is where you can be creative, and if you can go out and get things done, rather than spending too much time creating plans and strategies, then you’re already ahead. Proving that you can get results in a short period of time is something that definitely gets noticed and it’s completely up to you how you get there!
The ability to meet and speak to anyone, no matter their level of seniority
Unlike in larger corporations, junior staff aren’t usually allowed to talk to people of Partner/C-Suite level. When you work in a startup, you need to get things done quickly, which means there’s no policy for or against who can talk to whom. This can be one of the most exciting and interesting parts to working for a startup, especially as you get to increase your professional network at the same time.
This buzzword is thrown around everywhere and it’s often thought that work-life balance doesn’t exist in startups. You hear stories of founders and staff who work through nights and weekends but if you choose your startup carefully, and the culture is correct, you can find that you have a great work-life balance. This can include, working from home when you need, taking the morning off to go to the doctors (without having to take it as a half day of holiday). If you need to leave early one day, then you may decide to start work earlier instead, you’ll be surprised how flexible your work can be if you prove that you can manage your own work.
Of course, as with everything, there are the downsides, so it’s worth spending some time to understand the trades off between the pros and the cons. Do the advantages significantly outweigh the disadvantages? Which benefits would you give more weighting to? This can help you make a decision as to whether the startup is right for you. Listed below are some of the cons, which aren’t always talked about:
Don’t expect to get formal or structured training. If you want to learn something you may just have to do this in your spare time. Or perhaps ask your company if they can fund for you to attend a course, but expect to take the time to have to find the course yourself! What can help, is to have a mentor/ someone in your team that knows a skill that you’re looking to learn and to spend some time working with them, this can work just as well and can encourage a culture of teaching and learning between employees.
This is often the most important factor for people (that puts them off working for a startup). It’s not like a zero hour contract where there may be no work. There will always be work, but there may not always be the capital to fund the company. During these times, founders should be very transparent about the circumstances to their staff. Unfortunately, there are some startups that don’t communicate the rough times as they worry it will demotivate staff.
Your salary will often be less than your market value and instead you may be given commission/equity. The issue with this, is that there’s no guaranteed payout which is a given that comes with startups. If you’ve only worked in startups, it can be difficult to know what you’re worth and how the pay grading works – often because there is no grading system. There aren’t necessarily any industry standards but looking at similar jobs in similar startups can give you a good idea.
When working for a startup, it’s important to understand what you do and just how important it is to you. You’ll only figure this out from actually working and often your preferences will change according to your own circumstances. Every startup is different so I can only recommend that you find out as much as possible during your interview stages before you take on a new job.