I have worked in startups my entire professional career.
During my senior year of college, I sold the small business I had started just so I could join a twelve-person cloud computing startup that seemed like it was taking off.
Through that job, two other formative roles at startups, and most recently starting my own venture-backed company – I can’t imagine growing my career any other way.
Working for a startup can change your life (in a good way).
Most startup jobs offer a flexible work environment, more responsibility, and opportunity for career acceleration. But they also offer tremendous upside potential.
Compensation plans that include stock options are the norm at high-growth tech companies. So working at a startup can result in a life-changing windfall when the company is acquired or goes public through an IPO.
This kind of outcome can be career-defining and the fastest-growing tech startups tend to get the biggest valuations, so it’s worth doing your research.
As serial entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “A big business starts small.”
What are the best reasons to work for a startup?
Recent research from AngelList and Blind showed that over 60 percent of startup employees are happy in their jobs, compared to just 30 percent of those at big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
While up-and-coming startup jobs may seem exhilarating, they don’t come without some risk.
So why work at a startup?
We asked some of the most experienced members of our tech community at Powderkeg to share their perspectives. Here’s what they had to say:
1. You can build your confidence when you work for a startup.
“Working at a startup will increase your self-confidence in ways you didn’t even imagine. It also expands your knowledge base and abilities to empathize with others, in everyday life interactions, that you encounter in the future. Not to mention it increases your value add for future opportunities… just imagine the experiences and stories you will be able to share.”
-Christopher Day, CEO at Elevate Ventures
2. Working at a high-growth startup builds resilience.
“When you’re working in a high-growth startup, you are forced out of necessity to wear many different hats and do whatever it takes to be successful. These habits build resilience, the ability to learn quickly, adaptability, and urgency, which are all incredible skills to take with you into any role in your career. I have not found a better place to learn those skills than by working in a high-growth environment.”
-Drew Beechler, CEO at Holder
3. Working at a fast-growing company gives you the chance to try many new things.
“Fast-growing companies have roles that are also growing fast. By working at a startup that is quickly changing and evolving, you will get the opportunity to try many new things. You’ll get exposed to different areas of the business and will grow in ways you never imagined. This will help you better understand yourself and what you do (and do not) want to do with your professional life. You’ll also be surprised at how many skills you’ll develop that will make you more valuable to employers throughout the rest of your career.”
-Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO & Co-Founder at Casted
4. You will have more responsibility while working for fast-growing startups.
“Working at a startup can completely change your career trajectory. With rapid growth comes increased responsibility as well as opportunity. This gives you a chance to accelerate your career alongside the fast-growing company.”
-Nate Spangle, Head of Community at Powderkeg
5. Working for the fastest-growing tech companies teaches you to adapt to change.
“Simply put, fast-growing companies help you get incredibly comfortable with change while also getting incomparable exposure and experience. I credit a massive part of my career to a risky decision to join a startup (Compendium Blogware) in 2007. That choice and the skills I learned, and the network I gained have, in some way or another, led me to every job I’ve had.”
-Jenni Burton, Director of Growth at Engineered Innovation Group
6. You’re free to explore more when working at a fast-growing tech company.
“Fast-growing companies are a great environment for those who enjoy exploring all the facets of professional development, not just those specific to a certain field. It’s a great way to gain exposure to more opportunities to make an impact and have higher levels of responsibility earlier on that you might have in a very large corporate environment. You develop a sense of perseverance and tenacity that will serve you throughout your career and life!”
-Joy Zylinski, Operations Lead, Immuware
7. Working at fast-growing tech companies can accelerate your career.
“A fast-growing company is great for your career because you have the opportunity to see and be part of building the company through multiple stages of growth. I always tell candidates that if they are looking for opportunities to grow, that is absolutely possible here because we’re looking for someone to come in, hit the ground running, and contribute towards our company goals and initiatives.”
-Oaksoon Callahan, VP Talent at Casted
8. You can build your reputation while working for fast-growing startups.
“Working at a fast-growing company typically means you’ll have plenty of exposure to challenging assignments. You’ll set the standard and leave your mark for future employees.”
-Alden Miller, Storyteller at Alchemy
9. Working at the fastest-growing tech startup gives you more opportunity to grow.
“In my experience, working for a startup is a humbling experience that can help you grow in unexpected ways. Working at a fast-growing company has helped me develop a bias toward action, speed up decision-making, and overcome perfectionism.”
-Meg Yothment, Head of Community Operations at Powderkeg
10. You get to have more experiences working at a startup vs. a big company.
“As an engineer, the breadth of experience and opportunities you get in a fast-growing company are wildly different than in a large enterprise. Your exposure to clients and business partners is often limited at a large enterprise. At a fast-growing company like ours, you are constantly working on your core engineering skills while also getting better at strong technical and business needs discovery and presenting your work. EIG also offers engineers the chance to work on projects of all sizes and types across a multitude of technologies, providing an even greater opportunity to learn and rapidly grow.”
-Jake Miller, CEO at Engineered Innovation Group
11. You will learn to not sacrifice progress for perfection.
“Flexibility, agility, and resilience are necessary competencies that you gain through working at a fast-growing company. You learn to fail fast and move quickly so you don’t sacrifice progress for perfection – a skill that will serve you well in any industry in business.”
-Gabby Popowitz, Talent & Culture Leader at Boardable
How to find the right startup job for you
If you’re considering joining a startup, there are a few very important things to keep in mind to make sure it is a good fit for you as well as the company.
It all starts with doing your research. The first place to start is the company’s core values. Find out what their guiding principles are and how you align with them. You can find these on the about us section on their website or the Culture tab on their Powderkeg profile.
Then you want to dive into their company culture. This can be a very difficult thing to quantify so we recommend a few different strategies. Looking at a company’s Glassdoor profile can tell one side of the story but we also recommend looking at the employee testimonials on their Powderkeg profile. This will give you a look into what both current and ex-employees are saying about the company culture. It’s also a good idea to set up brief meetings with multiple employees from across the company during the interview process. This will give you a feel for what the complete company culture looks like.
The next thing that is critical for your success at a startup is the leadership. Does the company have a leadership style that you respond well to? When going through the interview process make sure you ask the leadership team questions about the difficult times and how the company navigated through them.
Another thing to keep in mind is the financial status of the company. Are they venture-backed? If so, when will they need to raise again or what is the plan to make it to an exit event?
Knowing the financial state of the business is crucial especially if company equity is part of your total compensation. There are significant financial upsides to working at a startup but there can also be risks. It is important to identify these risks and take them into account when making your decision.
The last thing you should consider is the product or service your company offers. Is this something you believe in? Does it solve a problem you want to dedicate time to? If you truly believe in the product when times prove to be more challenging it can be that extra motivation needed to persevere.
Evaluating startup jobs can be challenging. We recommended checking out their company profile on Powderkeg to start your research on core values, leadership, culture, and product. Be sure to check out our curated list of fastest-growing tech startups across the unvalley as well as our awards for The Best Tech Companies to Work for.