Why work for a Startup?
Why work for a startup?
This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for some time. To discuss the motivations and reasons for going to work for a startup, but also to look at “the startup trade-off” – the pitfalls and downsides to this type of work.
- Why go down this route?
- Leave your friends at the crossroads and follow your own path
- Taking the cut (salary and lifestyle sacrifice)
Why go down this route?
For many reasons, but perhaps the top two reasons for any one person might include 1) a lack of enjoyment and sense of fulfilment in a traditional job role, and 2) the promise of building something for yourself, watching it grow and reaping the significant financial benefits (big side-order of optimism here on the last one!).
For me, I wasn’t enjoying my obvious career. I’d followed my academic results, advice from family and teachers, and done a 4-year masters degree in Civil Engineering. I didn’t enjoy the course for the large part – I found it too heavy on the theory and with little opportunity for creativity or actually building and getting things done. But I came out the other side of it with few other ideas (I hadn’t quite warmed up to the possibility of entrepreneurship and alternative employment at this time). I chose to at least give it a go and pay my dues to the 4 year university degree I’d just invested in, so I went to work for an engineering consultancy for 2 years. Some of this was great work, particularly pieces of design and project management, but it took so long to actually create and build things! Again it didn’t feel like this was “it” for me. I could see friends and colleagues 1 year, 3 years, and 10 years further down the same career path to me, and it didn’t excite or interest me at all. That might resonate with you, this feeling of staring down the barrel of a long, obvious career path and realising early that it just isn’t for you; or you might have experienced a different realisation or cause.
I chose to leave engineering, and the career that was literally already at my feet. I’d started to realise (from a bit of self-evaluation), that actually I wanted something more. I had come to the inlfexion point and realised thatwhat I actually enjoyed was creating things, building things and getting it done! I took a new look at how I viewed business and decided that actually – creating value and selling it, whether that be in the form of products or something else; and making my own income and future – that was something I really wanted and could enjoy working for.
The opportunity that attracted me was the chance to build something for myself. To work on projects, ideas and products which I chose to, with people who inspire and motivate me, and (being honest) with the hope of making some sort of financial success far greater than any traditional career path that I might have followed otherwise.
Leave your friends at the crossroads and follow your own path…
It’s a tough move. You literally are jumping ship from everything that your formal education, teachers, family, and possibly even friends have steered you towards to date.
I remember at the time feeling a bit nervous of whether it was the right move. I knew it might take years for the answer, for the choice to start paying off and my decision to be validated. But I also remember thinking how grateful I was to myself for being self-aware enough to realise I wasn’t happy with the status quo so early on, and deciding then to do something about it. I think so many people go a decade or even further into a formal career, with just one or two employments in the same industry; before then realising they hate it and wishing they could change. Unfortunately it’s often at that point, maybe a decade after graduating and joining the working world, that most are by now tied into major commitments – family, mortgage and bills included.
Another thing to remember at this point, is that when you make the decision and transition to alternative employment – going to work for a small startup team of a handful of people with a scrappy plan and a big ambition; you more often than not leave behind some of your friends. I don’t mean leave them out of your life completely. But these are the friends who have been around you during your formative years, perhaps they had the same education and did the same degree course as you – and now you’re leaving the comfort zone of being with them, and striking out into the risky territory on your own. As I have – you’ll no doubt meet new friends along the way who are like-minded and on the same entrepreneurial journey as you, but it is a peculiar feeling when you realise you’re now on a different career path and trajectory to a lot of your childhood friends. They aren’t going to be able to directly relate to your problems and the stresses of the startup life you’ve just signed yourself up to. They’ll probably now be earning more than you (a salary which you’d have had yourself if you’d only stayed put) and they’ll start buying houses and maybe starting families too, all possibly well before you. That will probably all continue for sometime, but remember – you have your reasons, and we all get to where we want to be, just maybe at different times!
Taking the cut (salary and lifestyle sacrifice)…
When I left my engineering job and moved to London to start out on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF) programme, I took a salary cut. After a year my salary then jumped back up, but still wasn’t the same as it would have been for a peer with a similar 3 year working career under their belt at that stage. Since then it’s remained pretty much the same for the last couple of years – comfortable and enough to survive on, but lagging behind (somewhat significantly) from plenty of my friends and those old colleagues I left behind in the engineering profession.
I knew and expected this to be the case, and I signed myself up to it when I took the leap and made the career change. It’s been a trade-off, a salary sacrifice which I hope will only be for the short-mid term, in the hope of a far more fulfilling career and a better payoff in the long run.
I also embraced a bit of a lifestyle sacrifice too. You certainly don’t have to, perhaps you have plenty of money saved up to live-off, or your startup role pays handsomely. But for me this came in the form of not going out as much, not bothering with big nice-to-have purchases, or bikes in my case (I love road and mountain bikes!). I had to sell my last beloved mountain bike last year when money was low – to buy the laptop I’m now writing this blog on! This isn’t about being a total martyr to your cause, but it’s a mindset that I think is very worthwhile considering if you really want to do this. I have lots of business ideas, side projects (this blog being one), and ambitions. If I’m going out a few nights a week and spending huge sums on “The London Life”, then where’s the room for my hustle time? When am I supposed to be working on my ideas and getting things done? Not to mention that I couldn’t afford to live like that for very long anyway, but I become very frustrated with myself if too many days pass where I haven’t been able to move things forward on a project or a goal. It’s hard at times, but I’ve done plenty of Friday and Saturday nights in, working on my passions, when the easy option would be to go out with friends, socialise and party away my young years.
Having said all of that, it really is important to find your healthy balance. There’s absolutely no point in sacrificing so much of your health and happiness, and slaving away your every hour – to the detriment of your health and happiness. Your business (present or future) needs you in good health and fighting fit! For me, I do like to go out every now and then, blow off a bit of steam and re-connect with friends. My big passion and release though is my sport – cycling, followed by a bit of running, occassional swimming and the gym. If I stayed indoors trying to work more hours every night of the week, I think the productivity and quality of my work would quickly drop off a cliff, and I’d certainly go a bit mental!