A blog that needs work

The Trade-offs of Startups

I can't claim to be an expert on how startups work; Not just because my combined startup experience only covers a bit more than a year, but also because, I imagine, it's difficult to say how startups work when you aren't working at one. There's just the view from outside, of course, which is not reflective of how things actually are. Heck, even talking about things now is still a bit from the view outside (for you, of course).

No, I can't claim to be an expert, but I can talk to my own experience.

Regular jobs are not comparable, probably

If you've ever had to look for a job, and have been given an offer, there are usually a lot of different things to consider...

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Culture
  • Work Environment
  • Team
  • etc.

...and it's not usually easy to decide between different offers. There are obviously similar considerations when choosing to work with a startup, but there are some difference that make it difficult to compare the two:

  • Equity: yes, this is just another financial measure, but its value can vary quite a bit, even with just a few percentage points
  • Involvement: depending on your role, your may have a huge effect on the company, in terms of culture, architecture, or design
  • Growth opportunities: unless you're bouncing around across the company, the amount of knowledge you gain will probably flatten off, and you'll either need to turn inwards (learn on your own time) or outwards (look elsewhere) to really grow. Compare this to a startup where if you're in early, you're probably going to learn a lot over several different areas.
  • Meeting smart people: Startups don't have a lot of time to mess around, they need to get moving fast. This often means that people involved in startups get to meet some really ambitious, motivated, smart people both technical and non-technical people, fellow employees, advisors, investors, and other founders.

It isn't always 80 hours weeks

People like to think that it's all long hours, work-hard and play-hard. Depending on where the company is at, this may, or may not be the case. I've been involved in at least one startup where long hours were part of the job even a couple years after it had started, but I've also been involved at least one startup where I haven't had to work much more than a 'regular' work week.

That being said, there will always be times when an organization has to band together, put in extra hours, and just get stuff done. This isn't unique to startups.

You might not get to do side projects...

...but that doesn't mean you don't get to learn. It may just mean that your side projects are part of your regular job. There are all sorts of things that I've wanted to try out related to deployment, testing, and continuous integration. Fortunately, this aligns pretty well with things that need to get done around work.

That's not to say that there's no free time. I've found time to work on things like the HotelTracker for Anime North, and I do have time to work on side-projects (I haven't exactly managed my free time well though).

Startups aren't that risky

There's this idea that startups are risky somehow, that they could just go belly up, or run out of money. Certainly, this is a possibility, but things are rarely that dire. It's true that many startups don't go public, or don't grow as dramatically as hoped, but things often work out for people at startups. In the unlikely event that a startup isn't successful to some extent, the people involved still have a wealth of experience extending far beyond just techical knowledge, which is immensely helpful when seeking employment.

It may have been the case at some point in the past twenty years that it was possible to work at a company with some level of job security, and an expectation of the company treating you fairly in terms of regular wage increases and job security. I don't think that is the case any longer, as many companies are likely to make cuts in the name of 'economic woes'. In this way, I think that startups are no less risky than regular companies.

I'm running a bit dry at the moment, but those are just a few of my thoughts about trade-offs of startups. If you want to hear other insights about startups, just tell me in the comments.

Nicholas Terwoord

A self-titled software developer, "code archaeologist" (whatever that means), and professional geek. Spends too much of his time coming up with new projects, and not enough time working on them. Likes video games, board games, anime, manga, and Pathfinder / Dungeons and Dragons (GOTO: Line #1 - Geek).