Never before in the history of business have there been so many
companies founded by so many people in so little time. Many are abandoning
the corporate scramble to strike out on their own and, hopefully,
meet their destiny.
These increasing numbers of startups are always looking for talented
people to staff the latest, greatest, Internet/Interactive
powerhouse that will change
the very nature of the business. As people who understand the technologies
behind such businesses, we are often in demand. Before you jump ship, though,
there are a few things to consider
Moving to a new startup company requires open eyes and a thorough
understanding of the trials and tribulations of starting
a new company. You need to know
how to protect yourself while still using the opportunity to grow.
So, you get a call one day and it is a friend who is starting
a new company and wants you to come aboard. Your first reaction
is often to type up your
resignation letter and tell your current boss exactly what we think of him
and the company. While this might be therapeutic you need the security of
your job, even a bad one, to clearly make decisions about
moving to this new company.
Here are a few guidelines to follow when considering making a move to a new
startup, or any new job.
Don?t burn bridges. There is no reason to make enemies as you
walk out the door. You might need your old job back if the
startup doesn?t succeed...and
many don?t. Continue to do your best work and insure that, if you leave,
you will be doing so on the best possible terms. You wan
to be missed when you
Don?t discuss your offer with anyone unless you trust him or
her implicitly. You don?t want to reveal that you might be
considering other offers too early.
Many offers don?t work out and you don?t want your current employer to know
that you are looking. This can often lead to layoffs or worse since they
may feel you are already looking anyway. You only want to
approach your employer
when the deal is finalized and you are ready to make the move.
It often helps ease the transition to have a constructive explanation
about why you are leaving the company. In most cases, I have
left one job to explore
new challenges and avenues of work rather than any dissatisfaction with the
job. Make this clear to your employer. Keep those bridges intact in case
you ever need to travel that way again.
Taking care of these previous relationships will help you to
take bigger risks since you have someplace safe to retreat
to should the new position not work
out. You will feel less stress in the new position and worry less about personal
In the next few weeks I will explore some of the unique features
of working for startup companies and how you can best exploit them
to your, and the company?s,
Startup companies can be exciting and frightening places to work.
There is more fun, more pressure, more work in fact more of everything
then you will find in an established corporation. It is up to you
to take advantage of everything a startup company has to offer while
avoiding the pitfalls that can and do occur.
After the move
Last week I talked about not burning bridges to your old job
in case you need to return there. This week I will concentrate
on the other end of that equation,
negotiating with the new company for the best possible deal.
Make sure, before your start, that you understand exactly what
salary you will be paid, health care insurance arrangements,
working hours and environment
and try to understand the mind set of the principals in the company.
In one case, I started a job only to find out that my portion
of health care costs were in the thousands of dollars per
year and I was expected to contribute
out of their quoted salary offer. This effectively cut my salary by the same
amount. It was extremely uncomfortable to go back to my new employers and
negotiate a significant raise after the fact. It is better
to have issues like these
handled before the offer is accepted. In some cases, it could even mean the
loss of the job.
You also need to inquire whether the company?s work habits include
large amounts of overtime, travel or other odd situations,
such as working at a client?s
location for weeks. Does the president of the company work 23 hours a day?
Does he expect everyone to do that? Now is the time to find out, not later.
Pay Checks and other lost things
Since startup companies are often working on tight budgets and
schedules it is important to know when paychecks are supposed
to be distributed so that
you can quickly notice should any financial problems arise. Paychecks that
are regularly delayed 1 day or more point to some issue with cash flow or
paperwork. Don?t wait 3 weeks to question these delays. You
don?t want to be in the situation
of working for a month and then having the company close without paying you.
The same applies for other payments like expense reports and
reimbursements. Delays in these areas point to problems somewhere
and should be addressed immediately.
This is not to say that companies are out to screw you. It is merely a fact
of life that the majority of startups never make it past the first year.
There are good points
Don?t let the discussion above scare you. There are many good
points to joining a startup company, especially for someone
who is new to the computer career
marketplace. Next week I will explore some of these benefits and how to make
the most of them for both you and your new company.
Working for a startup company can truly be a rollercoaster ride.
One minute the company is suffering a setback and the next it is
hauling in the big fish client that ensures profitability. The first
days and months of a startup are a heady time filled with hard work
and hard fun. There are a few things you can do to insure that you
are taking care of yourself while still providing the company what
Take care of yourself
Some people thrive on "all-nighters" and crunch deadlines but others,
myself included, can only work so long before crashing. You need to remain
healthy to do your best so don?t ignore sleep and a good diet when business
is pressing. In fact, these are the times when you should be concerned about
it the most. Take naps if you can. Don?t load up on junk food and Jolt cola.
Even if people are pushing you to your limits you need to carve out time
for yourself. Find time for your family, even if it means leaving work and
coming back later in the evening. Don?t skip lunch. Go take a walk and use
the time to clear your head. Your productivity will not suffer. It will actually
This said, one of the most important aspects of a startup is
that you will be called on to do almost any job imaginable.
Since there is usually only a
minimum of staff you might be asked to design artwork one minute and arrange
a press conference the next. Don?t hesitate to take on these tasks. A startup
company is like an accelerated learning course. You will learn more in a
shorter time than ever before.
While it may seem a little
crazed, everything you learn
will make you more marketable in the future. It is a wonderful situation
when you are getting paid to improve yourself and your
skills. You might even find
a new focus to your career. Try everything. Do everything. This is an opportunity
you will rarely ever find in a typical corporation.
Moving up the ladder
The dynamic environment of a startup can also lead to quick promotions.
This can often cause a little fear in people who have never
managed other people
before. This is NOT a reason to turn down the promotion, though. It is much
better to try and fail then never try at all. Take advantage of the situation
and take every opportunity to expand your experience. You can always learn
to manage other people but it is very difficult to get back a lost opportunity.
Take time to meet other people from your industry. This might
take place at trade shows or down at the coffee shop near
the office. Computer companies
often congregate around small geographical areas and your next job might
be discovered over a cup of your morning coffee. This networking
also allows an
informal sharing of information about companies and the industry as a whole.
Do favors for others and they will often do favors for you. Just like preserving
bridges to past employers you should be building new ones to future employers.
This month I have talked about the unique possibilities of startup
companies. They can offer amazing opportunities to everyone involved
as long as they understand the possibility of failure and plan for
their future. It is just as important to look out for Number 1 as
it is to do a good job for the company. In most cases, these goals
are not mutually exclusive.
Where do we go from here?
As startup companies become more mature, they will often begin adopting the
practices of their more stalwart corporate counterparts. At this stage you
will face another major decision. Do you enjoy the chaotic environment of a
startup or can you adapt to the more corporate atmosphere of the growing company?
Often, computer careerists, especially younger ones, want the chaos
and challenge of a startup company. They find that this is where
they work best. Others may
be ready to join (or re-join) the corporate world and yearn for the more
One solution is to spin-off especially talented employees into
a new startup company to explore the next frontier of the companies
business. Part of their
business might be to supply the parent company with artwork or other content
while it also goes off to develop new clients and new business on its own.
In fact, this is what often supplies the next round of startup companies
in a never-ending cycle.
If you have a particularly good idea and good business sense, you might even
develop a new startup company of your own. Hopefully the knowledge you gained
working for your parent company has prepared you for this next career leap.
While "selling out" has some bad connotations, in today?s computer
market it can be the ticket to becoming a millionaire for owners of startup
companies and major promotions for their employees. While there is some danger
of losing your job when a company is bought out, in most cases everyone involved
succeeds in some way.
Some entrepreneurs are better at starting companies than running
them. In their case, selling a company allows them to move onto
the next startup and do what
they do best. It is often in your best interest to support efforts to sell
a company since you could easily be elevated to a higher position in the
company or become part of a much larger organization.
That said, don?t expect a sale to happen overnight. Selling a company
is a drawn out procedure fraught with problems. One company I was
working for took
over a year to finalize the purchase agreement. You almost have to ignore the
mechanics and just get on with your job or you risk obsessing on the deal and
losing focus on the task at hand.
Startup companies can be the most exciting places in the world
to work, but there are issues involved that you must be willing
to accept. Sometimes, we
need to shift our mind set into what I call "adventure mode." Here
we allow the situation to carry us into new territory without necessarily worrying
about the final destination. This is not to say, though, that you don?t prepare
for other possibilities. In fact, this allows you to engage in the "adventure" even
more since you have already established your safety net, should you need it.