Working for a Startup – Reality Check

24 Feb 2016
by Rolf
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This week’s guest blogger is James D. Burbank. He has witnessed startups succeed and fail all over the world in his years in the trade show industry. He blogs about his business experience at BizzMarkBlog. Check it out if you have the time.

Hard worker, multi tasking, guy working in a startup environment  wearing multiple hats


Working for a Startup – Reality Check

When you try to look back at the history of employment and work in general, it is difficult to find an equivalent to the situation we have with startups these days. It feels that everywhere you look there is a fresh new and promising startup on its way to immeasurable success, still hiring and offering the chance to work in state-of-the art offices, even giving you the chance to get stock options in the startup. It all sounds like the perfect workplace, right?

Well, in reality, things are a tad different, to say the least.

You Will Become a Workhorse

Startups operate with a very, very, very slim margin of error and one of the consequences of this is that employees need to work much harder and longer hours than they would in an already established business. It is not that unusual to learn that you will be working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, 31 days a month, even in February. There are never enough people to get the job done in a humane way and as a result, you can expect to lead a coal miner’s life when working for a startup.

You Will Not Get Paid

Pretty much all startups struggle with money. It is a startup reality and only startups that are launched by already established business people or financiers can afford to pay their early employees properly. Because the money is hard to come by, startups rely on a number of employee compensation alternatives that you need to be extremely careful about. In essence, you cannot expect to be paid as much as you would in an established company when you work for a startup. More likely than not, you will be offered stock options and you need to read up on these before you sign anything.

Your Role Will Not Be Defined

Everyone in a startup does everything. Startups cannot afford to hire people for just one role. Even if you start off with a clearly defined role at a startup, you will soon find out that the reality is much more fluid and that you will be taking on new tasks and expected to handle them. On one hand this can even be a good thing since you will learn new skills and put your existing ones to the test. More often than not, however, you will just feel overwhelmed and something of a handyman instead of a qualified professional.

You Will Encounter Chaos

Startups are chaotic by definition. Very often, they are launched by people who know little to nothing about running a business and as a result of this, the atmosphere gets very chaotic, very soon. One day everything seems to be going the right way and then the next, it is like a meteor hit the offices while you were home getting your two hours of sleep. Some people find this challenging, while others simply find it annoying.

You Will Have To Be Involved

Being involved sounds like a good thing. You feel empowered and important when you are asked to contribute to a company in a more strategic sense. Well, for some people, this is not what they signed up for. They needed a job and they wanted to fill a position. They have other things going on in their lives. If you are one of these people, you may find it quite difficult to be as involved as startup employees are often asked to be.

You Will Lose Your Job

Okay, we are being a bit doomsday-y with this one, but the harsh reality is that 90% of all startups fail before they can reach stability of some kind. There are innumerable reasons why startups fail, but the simple fact that you need to be aware of is that they do. What this means is that after putting in endless hours, doing all kinds of stuff and surviving all kinds of stress, you are far more likely to end up on the job market than as a co-owner of a multimillion startup.

Closing Word

This article was not meant to put the fear of startups into you and it was supposed to be more of a reality check for people who may be mesmerized by the prospect of working for a startup. And while everything we have mentioned is true in most cases, this is something some people will simply find as an obstacle to be overcome.


If you are one of them, then good luck to you.

AUTHOR: James D. Burbank has witnessed startups succeed and fail all over the world in his years in the trade show industry. He blogs about his business experience at BizzMarkBlog. Check it out if you have the time.

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