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If you don’t understand these 5 things, don’t work for a startup

11:16 am by | 6 Comments

A recent study by HireArt, a Y-Combinator-backed recruiting company, showed that startup employees often get fired or quit because they are not a good fit for the company. Part of the reason why that is the case is that working for a startup can be a bit different than working for larger companies.

Here are five things people should know before trying to work for a startup:

1. Working for a startup means having ownership over your work and doing something that you really believe in, but it also means doing whatever is needed of you.

Be aware that working at a startup also involves “grunt work,” well below what you might do at a larger corporation. Expect to do whatever is needed of you. Sometimes this will mean building a revolutionary feature to your product and sometimes it’ll mean making phone calls, signing for deliveries, or other tasks you may think are outside of your job description.


2. We all hope for a big exit a la Instagram. However, you should understand the risks and be aware of how rare startup success really is.

A recent Harvard study notes that 75 percent of startups fail. Will your next employer be a success or a failure? Even if everyone is working extremely hard at building a life-changing product, the reality is that it doesn’t always work out and many startups go out of business within a year. Understand what that would mean for your career progression — having too many “short stints” on your resume is a big no-no.

3. While getting equity is a big plus and many startups have yummy snacks and fun perks, expect a lower salary and fewer benefits.

Startups are usually more strapped for cash than other companies. This means that many of them may not be able to offer comparable salaries or benefits to other opportunities you might have. We recently had candidates for marketing positions asking for $150,000 –- note that while this might be doable at a large company, startups, in our experience, pay about 70 percent of what you might get at a larger organization.

4. You’ll have lots of exposure to founders at a small startup, but you may get less mentoring than you need.

The team atmosphere of startups is what makes it irresistible to many of us — working in a small group to achieve a big goal is energizing and feels like you’re back in college. But your managers are busy and often don’t give you the kind of formal mentorship you might get elsewhere. Don’t forget that your managers are often less experienced than you are in a given field, so it’s up to you to learn on your own. If you’re the only marketing hire at a start-up, you’ll get much less mentorship than if you worked at, let’s say Proctor and Gamble, where people with tons of years of marketing experience can teach you the tricks of the trade.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while startups are a lot of fun, the pressure can be much higher than at other types of companies.

The pressure to achieve results, hit metrics, achieve growth, and get more traction can be overwhelming for many. We’ve seen lots of people quit startups because they realized the emotional pressures were simply too much for them. It’s awesome to know your work can help make or break the business, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility!

Overall, we still think startups are amazing –- working at one will change your life, how you see the world, and what you think is possible. You’ll become a doer and fixer overnight and things that seemed overwhelming will seem like a piece of cake after a while. You’ll learn more about yourself and about how a business ought to be run than anywhere else. But the risks, discomforts, and drawbacks should not be ignored.

[Image from flickr user beautiful cataya]

Elli Sharef is CEO and co-Founder of HireArt, a jobs marketplace that uses online challenge-based interviews to vet job applicants. She began HireArt to fix a broken hiring and interview process and get people hired based on skills, not connections. Since starting HireArt, Elli and her team have placed hundreds of candidates in sales, service, and marketing jobs at dozens of employers. Prior to HireArt, she worked as a Business Analyst at McKinsey and Director of Strategy at the University of Phoenix.elli

Young businessman photo via Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock

Filed under: Business, Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

This article originally appeared on VentureBeat

Copyright 2014 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I was working with a Fortune 50 company for five years before I embarked on the world of entrepreneurship for the past 20 or so years.  Start-ups come with all the issues you raise and sometimes the grass is greener on what would be perceived as the more stable, traditional route of a well-established company, however, nothing gets the adrenalin and hopefully your brain going than the challenges of creating something from nothing.  All members of an early-stage company have a much larger impact on the success or failure of an entity than is possible with a larger, more mature company.  It's also great that all members in a start-up are typically rowing in the same direction with the same goal.  I love doing them including my new social ecommerce business at Flash Purchase.


Well written article with many great learning points.  Thank you for sharing!

Guest 552
Guest 552

I had an opposite experience, I went to a big company after working for 1,5 years for a start-up. It was like I lost my identity. I still needed to be responsible for everything when in fact I felt that my opinion as well as my experience and knowledge had a zero value.....

Roland Korn
Roland Korn

The only quible I have wih the article is on the mentorship. In my experience.

Just like the job descrition always has as the last descriptor " and other duties as required" mentorship is not top down but more like a web of information and skills being shared throughout the company. It is the willingness not only to do needed in the mundane but also to learn outside your specific discipline. In startups a willingness for a little learning is a good thing no mater your position. (Sent via BBerry)


Very well written article, most people love the idea of a start-up and relish the overall opportunity of not only the  monetary aspect but long-term career possibilities. While these opportunities may be likely the reality of start-ups is its quite difficult to launch a successful one. 


Brought back memories of my first start-up after leaving the cushy world of Pfizer (a fortuner 50) company.  My first day as the #2 guy in the company as VP, Marketing/Strategic Planning, I had to go out and buy coat hangers and trash cans:)  Since that time over 20 years ago, I've had great joy in pursuing start-ups where I have had more impact than I could have had elsewhere.  It's also great, particularly the early days, as there is a tremendous amount of positive energy directed to common goals.  The other great thing is the tremendous challenge to be successful with limited resources but with efforts that can truly change a market.  I continue to love this with my efforts at MedTech Catalyst and my new social ecommerce business, Flash Purchase.  The joy is working on transformational technology with great people.

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