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The pros and cons of working at a startup

Ben Long

April 8th, 2020

Written by

Ben Long
Ben Long

Category

Trends & Inspiration

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing some info and perspectives on working for startups. 

In parts 1-3 we’ve covered:

At this point, you should hopefully know a fair bit about startups. But, if you’re still not sure whether you should go startup or not, the next step is to make a list of the pros and cons. To help you get started, we’ve created a quick list of potential upsides and downsides, but you’ll need to tailor your list based on your situation and work preferences.

Working for startups: the pros

Innovation 

  • Startups often pride themselves on doing things differently and not maintaining the status quo
  • They focus on trying to solve a new problem
  • You’ll likely get to work on new things that haven’t been done before

Speed 

  • Most startups try to move fast and try a lot of different things at the same time
  • There’s no time to be bored!

Opportunity 

  • If you get in early enough, you’ll have more opportunities to grow with the organization
  • Often getting in early at a rapidly growing startup allows you to fast-track your career growth with promotions
  • Landing the right opportunity may mean you get offered equity

Impact

  • In a startup, your voice, thoughts, and opinions are more likely to be heard and acted upon
  • The smaller the team, the more important your job will be - even if you’re in an entry-level role

Recognition 

  • Everybody knows your name in the organization (and probably your dog’s name, too)
  • It’s more likely that you’ll get credit for the work you do

Ownership 

  • If you work for a very small startup, you’ll likely get more opportunities to take charge of your corner of the company
  • In larger startups, you’ll move into a position of ownership much more quickly

Experience 

  • Get exposed to bigger challenges and more roles in a shorter amount of time
  • Gain valuable experience that makes you a desirable candidate for other roles and companies, if you choose to move on

Working for startups: the cons

More risk 

  • A higher percentage of startups fail in the first few years
  • There’s often more uncertainty around the long-term viability of the company (and your job)

Less money 

  • Many startups offer smaller salaries below market rate, unless (like Tiny) they’re funded, and can offer competitive salaries in line with market rate
  • You may receive more perks, such as flexibility and snacks, but while nice to have, these things don’t pay the bills - not to mention if the company falls on tough times, you may see these perks disappear entirely

Unclear career path

  • The career ladder can be a little wonky (or nonexistent)
  • While you’ll probably get opportunities to work on cool projects, it could take a while before you’re offered a promotion (especially if you switch jobs within the first few years) 

Less training

  • Startups will give you plenty of opportunities to learn, but it’ll mostly happen on-the-job
  • Usually, there’s very little training and you’re thrown straight in the deep end (to sink or swim) by yourself

Long hours

  • While it’s not true for every startup, the stereotype of “living to work” exists for a reason
  • There’s nearly always more work to do and not enough hours to do it in, so you could find yourself working a few late nights and early mornings

More responsibilities 

  • Let’s hope you look good in hats… because you’ll have to wear a lot of them and not just in your specialty
  • Expect to feel stretched and uncomfortable on a regular basis when working at a startup 

Lack of structure

  • Most startups have a flat structure - while some people thrive in this environment, others will struggle
  • It’s not always clear who’s accountable to whom and who makes what decisions 
  • A flat structure can also bring a lack of management experience
  • Startup leaders are often stepping into their roles for the first time, so expect them to make some mistakes along the way

Transferable skills

  • You’ll learn loads working at a startup and gain valuable experience (to a certain point)
  • But if you stay in the startup world for too long, you may find it harder to transition into other industries

So, should you join a startup?

Well, it depends. Startups can be an exciting opportunity for new developers to launch their careers and for not-so-new developers to branch out and try new things. Even if you don’t get all the potential benefits we listed here, you’ll almost certainly gain valuable experience when you work for a startup.

That said, there can be some drawbacks, and startup life won’t be right for every developer. Especially if you have a low appetite for risk and uncertainty, and you prefer more structure. If that sounds like you, you’ll likely be better off working with a bigger, more established business.

Animation shows a woman scrolling through food options on a laptop

It’s a tough decision (maybe even tougher than figuring out what to eat for dinner) but...

Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as you think

Although there are some pretty clear differences between startups and more established companies, neither can guarantee happiness or success. Whether you choose to work with a startup or an established business, it’s more important for the company to fit with your career goals and your personal values.

Research potential employers to find out as much as you can about how they treat their employees and customers, along with any other factors that are important to you. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions during your interview. That way, you can make sure you find the best startups to work for, who’ll give you the best chance of success.

Careers at Tiny

Want to work at Tiny? We’re a fast-growing startup with offices in Palo Alto, Brisbane, and Umea (Sweden). We’re fun, fast-moving, innovative, and yes - we pay market rates! 

If you’re a talented person who’d like to be part of our team and work on some of the industry’s best products, we’d love to hear from you.

Check out our open positions or follow us on Twitter to stay connected.

CareersSmall business
Ben Long
byBen Long

Developer Advocate at Tiny. Computer scientist turned storyteller. Reminisces about programming on the MicroBee. Writes picture books for kids. Also the wearer of rad shoes. “Science isn’t finished until you share the story.”

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