Should I Join A Startup? Examining the Pros and Cons

by Ada Chen Rekhi

Startups are the hot new thing these days, and everyone wants to get into technology startups with high profile companies like Facebook, Twitter and Zynga making headlines and millionaires being created overnight. But should you join one?

As a recent Penn grad, I’ve seen both sides of the table. After graduating from Penn in 2006, I moved to Redmond for my first job at Microsoft. After that, I headed down to Silicon Valley to work for a small online games startup Mochi Media. I had an amazing experience at Mochi, working with some of the most fun and brilliant people that I know, and making great friends. Even better, the company was acquired for $80 million last year. Since then, I’ve recently co-founded my own startup, Connected, which provides contact management without the work.

As someone who’s in the startup community, I often speak with alumni who reach out and ask: should I join a startup?

The pros and cons of joining a startup

Choosing whether or not to join a startup is a deeply personal decision. Startups are definitely not the best fit for everyone. The reality of startups are two-fold: they can be intensely rewarding and uplifting experiences, but are also often long hours and low pay with a high variance on your results.  Here are some of the pro and cons I’ve observed in startups:

 Pros

 Wearing lots of hats – At any small and rapidly growing company, it’s all hands on deck. Startups offer fantastic opportunities to wear multiple hats and really get to know what it’s like to run an organization.

 Big career opportunities – Working at a startup can present big opportunities to step up and lead a time. As your startup grows, your scope of responsibility and experiences grow alongside it. Careers can progress much more quickly inside of startups.

 Learn by doing – In startups I love that so much learning takes place by simply rolling up your sleeves and doing, with fast feedback on how well you’re doing. Startups tend to encourage a culture of learning by experimentation, and small projects have the potential to become game-changing projects.

 Passionate people – Startups are almost invariably made up of passionate, excited people who are working there because they truly want to be working there. I love the energy and passion in small teams that believe in the idea that they’re working on.

Cons

Less Specialization – While startups offer opportunities to wear multiple hats, it’s rare to find opportunities to focus and become a deep domain expert in one area.  As a startup marketer, I was a generalist with responsibilities ranging from managing press and events to product decisions around launch, pricing and engagement. In a larger company, there are more opportunities to get deep and specialize.

 Career Development – With exceptions, startups are not run by people who have extensive people management experience and see it as their goal to shepherd personal career development. While startups can offer opportunities for career growth, the responsibility for this largely falls on you, the employee.

 Less Stable – Everything moves quickly in startups. Everything is fair game to change, including the startup’s name, the business model, and your role in the organization. Being part of a startup means being comfortable with constant large and small changes, and comfortable with the potential risks involved.

More Hours, Less Pay – Generally, you’ll work harder and get paid less while at a startup compared to your comparable role within a larger company. Very young companies often don’t offer the same type of compensation and benefits packages as larger organizations.

 Finding success in startups

Startups come in all sizes and shapes, and your experience can be very different depending on the team and business you choose. It’s like finding a shoe that fits. Every company is different, and the differences are magnified by team size.

As some final piece of advice, make sure you understand your career goals, what you hope to get out of the experience and how it all fits together.  Good luck on your startup adventures!

Ada Chen Rekhi is co-founder and head of user growth at Connected (http://connectedhq.com), a startup based in San Francisco which provides contact management without the work. Connected was recently acquired by LinkedIn, and Ada is now on the Product Marketing team there. She is a recent Penn alumna who graduated in 2006. You can connect with Ada on her blog at http://www.adachen.com or on Twitter as @adachen.  Ada will be posting about her day on our @PennCareerDay feed on Wednesday, November 9th.  Check back here next week for details on that!

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3 thoughts on “Should I Join A Startup? Examining the Pros and Cons

  1. Pingback: Linking In – Penn & Beyond

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  3. I would recommend joining a startup to anyone who can afford it even or a little while. it is like bootcamp for your career. finances are tight, new business development is a real focus and efficiency is prized above most other aspects. If you do, good luck!

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