For Job seekers, What startups are. And what they are not.


India has seen a number of startups in this decade. There are extremely successful ones like Flipkart, Swiggy, Paytm etc. There are absolute failures like TinyOwl, Peppertap, MonkeyBox etc. . And then there are sustaining ones like ShopClues, Snapdeal etc. And then, there are hordes of unknown ones, trying to find their feet. All of aforesaid were trying to find their feet at some point.


Some of these startups made millionaires of their early employees, while others pushed them to face uncertainties. I have been working with startups for almost 14 years in my 2 decade career. More than 7 years of those are spent in early stage startups. I was among the first 10 employees in 6 startups. I have built engineering teams in 3 early stage startups. Having seen sufficient, I categorise important criteria of job, and see it vis-a-vis startups

Stability

It’s an important criteria for most, if not all. The stability is defined as the state, if you do what you do, and do it well, you do not need to worry about your disposition. The startups do not guarantee that. Even if you are at peak of your performance, but your startup isn’t able to build a strong business model, you are doomed. Does that mean smart people should stay away from startups? Absolutely not. You need to correlate Stability with other factors for that decision.

Identity

While it may not be as strong a criteria as Stability, it is still an important one. Identity gives us purpose, confidence and helps us feel appreciated. Highest success comes from initiatives without boundaries. Startups give you that opportunity. Nobody is micro managing your daily schedule. You are appreciated for the risk you take, because that’s what the leadership team in your startup has done. 

Work-life balance

All work & no play makes Jack a dull boy. It's a phrase most of us heard while growing up. The message is simple. If work is the only thing you do, you would wind up not so well. Startups are trying to find their feet in a highly competitive environment. Sure, they may have a groundbreaking idea, but it's only an idea unless it can be showcased, which requires work, a lot of work. Work life balance is not a luxury they can afford, not at least until they are at a scale, and once they are there, they aren’t a startup anymore.

Trust

The worst of all issues however, happens to be trust. In a startup, loads of promises aren’t documented. Where they are documented, there are fine lines, and exceptions are built to override part / all of them. For example you might be offered equity, but in the event of liquidity there could be preference shares / equity, company liabilities that may leave you with lesser than your expectations. Trust is an important factor in such arrangements, but there is no way for you to evaluate that. Words are all they have, to take my effort away… :)


I came across 2 exemplary startups. In the first one, the startup owner, after figuring the business model to be not profitable in the expected timeframe, fired everyone from the team. Nobody was paid their due notice period settlements. The irony is, the same owner heckled hard with employees for the notice period, when they were leaving for better.

 

In second, the owner continued to give excuses and sell dreams to all employees for months, without paying them their dues. It was surprising to see so many of them believing in him wholeheartedly, while struggling to meet their basic expenses. When one of the employees took up the challenge to claim her rightful money, she had to go through a very difficult time. 

Conclusion

Startups are not for everyone, especially not for faint hearted. That does not mean joining a startup makes you a daredevil. It may make you look stupid too. I believe a startup journey may be important to be started with trustworthy people. If it is with someone you know, it's good. If it has to be with someone you don’t know, do remember to keep a check, and leave as soon as you see anything unusual / unethical.


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