5 Important Factors to Consider Before Working at a Startup

Thinking of jumping ship and joining a startup? Use these tips to help you decide.

These days, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the startup bandwagon. Somewhere along the way, working a corporate job lost its panache to the startup “badge of honor.” Especially if you live in a city with a burgeoning tech scene.

However, not all startups are created equal. Success in the startup world is largely dependent on the founding team’s smarts, skills and drive. And while they’re not for everyone, startups do offer a diverse workplace experience some professionals might prefer over the corporate routine.

Having difficulty choosing which career path is right for you? Consider these five factors before jumping ship to join a startup:


Before deciding which route is best for you, evaluate where you are in your career. If you didn’t drop out of college for the Thiel Fellowship, then a corporate job can offer a fantastic intro to the workforce. This is where you’ll learn your basic business skills. You can always take your experience and apply it to future endeavors if it doesn’t work out.

If you’ve already paid your dues in the corporate world, a startup may offer an exciting new challenge. Having experience under your belt will be a highly valuable asset— you’ll bring the discipline and leadership that help startups flourish.


Startups’ HR departments (or lack thereof) can resemble the wild west, with roles and teams that are even less defined. Don’t fall for the “define your own role” trap; you’re not aspiring to be a jack-of-all-trades. Hiring managers should know your key role and responsibilities. Additional ideas and skills you bring to the table are a bonus.

If you work better with direction, you may be frustrated with the A.D.D.-like approach of a younger startup’s environment. If however you go in aware of these growing pains, you’ll embrace the challenge.


Most corporations have articulated training and on-boarding procedures to ease you into their operations. Startups typically offer immediate, hands-on opportunities.

While your individual impact may be visible from the beginning, you must learn and adapt fast otherwise you may sink under the pressure. Of course, you may still be expected to hit-the-ground-running no matter where you end up.


According to a U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University report, 92% of startups failed because of “premature scaling.” In plain terms, they spent too much money hiring and marketing before first establishing a revenue stream or viable business model.

If you’re wooed by a product or sales company where traction is nil or next-to-nil, the leadership may need more time to figure out how to run the business. Poor pie-in-the-sky planning does long-term damage, so be sure you know what they’ve done versus what they plan to do. If they want you as their strategist, then gauge how much autonomy you’ll have to execute on your ideas. You don’t want to end up hired and fired in a matter of months because some bumbling founder sold you a line and ran out of money.

Pay and Benefits

Startups may not offer the same competitive salaries and benefits that corporate jobs do. You’ll need to do your research. Salary terms (and any commission structures and sales payouts if applicable) should be clearly defined in writing. Don’t even get me started on fuzzy equity options, promises of pay based on future events, or expectations to work for free.

What startups lack in compensation however, they may make up for in personal or financial rewards later on. For example perk packages, advancement opportunities, a chance at becoming the next billion-dollar valuation, etc. Just be realistic when making your decision: free daily lunches and coffee are great, but not if you’re severely underpaid and taken advantage of for your talents and time.

Regardless of where you work, remember to embrace every opportunity as a learning experience. You never know how or when it will benefit your future career. Like Sheryl Sandberg said in “Lean In,” it’s okay if your career looks more like swinging around a jungle gym than climbing a corporate ladder. Because no one wants to stand on that ladder, look up, and see someone else’s butt.