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You don't just take a job at a startup; you join in a mission

Managers at Work
Rochester Business Journal
June 13, 2014

“I just received a job offer at a local tech startup company. It’s an intriguing opportunity and probably way more interesting in terms of the job than the medium-sized company I’m at now. I was surprised that they said they would match my current salary—and talk about equity as well. But I’m worried about whether I’ll really like it. People tell me to ask about the work environment or culture. But it’s a startup and hasn’t been around that long, so that doesn’t seem relevant. How else can I assess whether this is a good fit for me?”

Your concern is certainly understandable. Working for a startup is not for the faint of heart. On one hand, it can present tremendous opportunity and a chance to build skills on a level that you might not get in a larger company. But on the other, the startup world presents a lot of risk and intensity.

“It’s not for everyone,” says Aaron Price, co-founder of a startup company called livecube, which is developing an app to amplify audience engagement, and founder of the NJ Tech Meetup group, New Jersey’s largest technology community. “If the company is in early stages, you can think about it in terms of a runway. If they have funding that can last them, say, 14 months, that’s the length of the runway.”

So then staff members can begin to ask the hard questions, such as “What milestones do we need to hit so we can continue to get an income? And what can I do to help the process?”

Given the risk, the decision to join one is extremely personal, Price says, and it needs to fit your personality.

For most startup company founders, the job is not just a job, he says. It’s about working long hours, weathering serious ups and downs, taking pride in building something from the ground up and hopefully watching it grow.

“You’ll hear startup company employees say, ‘I was No. 3’ or ‘I was Employee No. 12.’ They feel a sense of pride, being part of that early team,” Price says.

He says he appreciates that startup companies give him the opportunity to become involved with an engaged, motivated team instead of being just another employee. “I’m working on a company now. We have four people, and we’re growing. We are asking who will be in the team, not who will we hire as the next employee.”

So as you evaluate this, Price says, make sure that you have a good personal connection with the founders. “Think of it as a team, not a job.”

Besides personal commitment and passion, think about your skills and what you want to learn. Price says his wife made the choice to move from a larger company to a startup and as a result gained an entirely new set of skills and had a greater impact on the company than she would have otherwise. If the company doesn’t succeed, your experience is still very valuable and counts on a resume.

“It’s going to look great, and it will show that you can take risks. If you can make an impact at this company, you’ll be ready for the next one. Companies are desperate for innovation.”

At the same time, those who join startups need to have spouses and significant others behind them. Without their support, you could face real problems at home while you’re working at the startup. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride,” Price says.

Here are some additional tips for evaluating this opportunity, taken from a recent article written by Price:

 Can this team execute? “Growing any startup to gain traction requires skill, determination and the ability to execute,” he says. “As you talk to the company during your interviews, listen carefully when the founders describe their accomplishments, what they’ve learned and how they adapted to the market they are in.

“If you find a team that uses metrics to measure success, that’s listening intently and making changes to their product and constantly testing new ideas, you could have found a winner. If they do more talking than doing, then let them do the talking to someone else.”

 As we said before, pay attention to fit. Since you’ll be spending lots of time there, make sure you like these people personally and they will see you as an integral member of the team. “I know some startups that take this so seriously that they won’t hire anyone who they wouldn’t trust to baby-sit their children,” Price says.

 Would you write them a check? Looking at startups as career paths is similar to what investors do when they choose companies to invest in, Price says. “Would you invest your money with this company? If not, why invest your time there? If you don’t believe in the long-term plans of the company, don’t spend your time there.”

 And finally, what kind of career path could you be looking at? In many ways, that’s impossible to know. While most startups can’t offer concrete career paths, there should be some ideas about how you could be challenged and take on more responsibility down the road. “That’s a positive sign that you’ll grow with the company,” Price says.

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by email at

6/13/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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