There is a lot of hype around being the founder of a startup. Yes, the world needs more founders, but sometimes I feel like people want to start something because the title is exciting or because they’re going to get rich. The truth is that being a founder is really, truly Difficult – not for everyone.
But there’s good news: You can have a lot of fun and the same experience of being a founder by joining a startup in the process of getting started. Specifically, I’m referring to being one of the first ten employees of a company that raised between $2 million and $5 million from good investors.
So, if you are looking to join a young, fast growing company and accelerate your career, the incorporation stage is your sweet spot. Here’s why – and how you can find these opportunities.
Advantages of joining a startup in the founding stage
Yes, joining a startup in the inception stage involves risks. But I think the level of risk is misunderstood and exaggerated. It is very different from the level of risk that the founder takes starting from scratch.
Joining a startup at an early stage will also give you a job title boost and more experience to propel you to your next job.“
The business is still in the founding stage too early to become an integral part of shaping its future. It’s fun and feels very similar to being a founder. There is a camaraderie working together to accomplish something that can often be lost in later stages when a lot of time and energy is spent trying to implement systems or undo old ways of doing things. And if you’re a generalist, you’ll likely be involved in many different aspects of the business – from sales to engineering to fundraising, and expanding your skill set. This is very similar to the broad view of business that a founder gets.
Joining a startup at an early stage will give you job title support and more experience to propel you to your next job.. Even if you had to cut your salary a little bit (which is actually not usually that huge), you will earn more in your next position due to your experience solving real world problems and taking on the level of responsibility that people from a company background will not be able to match.
Startups are usually very open to negotiating titles – if you have a job in mind after your startup, don’t be afraid to negotiate a title that you think will get you where you want to be at your next job.
This is especially important for people who don’t have a lot of experience and who are early in their career. If you join a startup that is later than the founding stage, the team will be large enough that the founders will look for qualified professionals for the jobs. At that point, you won’t have a chance to beat your weight.
I know I started out by saying that not everyone is destined to be a founder or should feel pressured to be one, but joining a team early will give you the needed experience if you decide this is the path you want to go. Participating in company formative days is an experience that investors will highly value – in case you’re considering raising money for your startup.
The only reason people often advise against joining startups at the start-up stage is compensation. The company does not have a track record or the money to pay large salaries yet. But the base salary is often not as bad as you think. It is also likely that you will get enough shares to make you rich if the startup is successful.
How to find a seed stage company to join
So how do you find the perfect seed stage company to join? Young companies are risky, but a company backed by reputable investors is likely to have strong potential.
- Take a look at the companies that have recently joined reputable accelerators such as Y Combinator;
- Connect with top-tier venture capital firms, tell them the role you’re looking for and attach your resume, then ask them, “Which new companies are you most excited about?”. Venture investors love to help their startups find great talent, so they will be happy to receive it.
- Follow the tech media to see who recently raised an initial round. A startup that just sprung up is definitely a company that is looking for talent.
When interviewing for startups, here are some important things to look for when evaluating a company:
- Do you agree with the founders and believe in them?
- Do you believe in the vision?
- Do you relate to the problem and the product? Does working on it excite you?
- Is the team open for you to prove yourself to transform into the role you want?
- Do you have similar approaches to building products like them? For example, it may cause a lot of friction if the team likes to build the best player in the game [minimum viable products] Good range and integrated products are preferred.
- Work ethic similarities: Some teams work really late, others don’t. Make sure you are on the same page with work-life balance as the startup you’re joining.
Why an early stage startup might not be right for you
It’s going to be a roller coaster ride, there’s a good chance your hub will start, things won’t work, etc. You should be able to take those turns and enjoy the ride.
You will need to get your hands dirty. Small startups are very inferior and doing things that don’t scale, which means that not all of your business will be glorified. If you are an engineer, you may need to combine the best player in the game is less than perfect, and if you are a businessman, you will do a lot of manual tasks.
Be prepared to deal with less structured guidance and counseling; While the team will be there to help you, everyone is very busy. This means that you will often need to take on obscure tasks and be completely independent and do a good job. Initial stage startups are different from larger companies in the sense that they do not have the resources for robust training and mentorship programs.
But if those risks and uncertainties sound like exciting rather than intimidating, you have no better choice than joining an initial stage company.
Yarden Shaked is co-founder and CEO of Pharos.