10 Facts About Working at a Startup vs. a Big Company
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to recruit friends of mine to come work with me at my super early startup. In doing so I’ve had to educate a lot of my friends on what it’s like to be at a startup, and why you might want to join one. This blog post is a summary of all that advice. Oddly enough, I wrote a similar blog post my senior year of college while interning at Redfin. And since college I joined Cloudera before they were funded and left when the company closed its Series C, or third round of funding. The advice below mostly comes from my experiences at Redfin and Cloudera.
1) Responsibility, accountability, impact: at a startup it’s unavoidable to have lots of responsibility and accountability. There’s no doubt, too, that being at a startup will put you in a position to make a huge impact. If you do amazing work the entire company and all of its customers will benefit from it. And you’ll be loved for it. You’ll get notes from the CEO and other leaders complimenting you on how awesome your work is. On the flip side, if you make a big mistake, the whole company pays for it. But keep in mind that most startup cultures prefer agility and speed to cautiousness. It’s likely that your mistake won’t actually get you in trouble, as long as you were trying to do the right thing.
2) Risk: working at a startup is riskier. The startup likely isn’t profitable, and probably only has at most 12-18 months worth of money in the bank (this is called the startup’s runway). If the company does very well, the CEO will raise more money and extend the runway. You’ll still have a job and each round you’ll get a salary closer and closer to market rate (more about this later). If the startup doesn’t do well, you’ll be out of a job when the startup runs out of money. But you’ll be forewarned if the CEO is transparent — most of them are in earlier stages. A startup is risky because you’re building something from nothing. You’re doing something ridiculously hard because you believe in it and want nothing more than to see it succeed. You’re not failing even when all the odds are against you. You’re the underdog in many ways.
And by the way, if you’re a good engineer you’ll have zero issue finding another job. Zero. Every company in software, big and small, needs more good people. This trend won’t change for a long, long time, either.