Working for a startup can be hugely rewarding, but there are a lot of risks that come with taking this career path. Here are 10 questions to help you decide if a startup is right for you.

1. How do I respond to failure? (Be honest.) 

Failure has become a big buzzword in startup circles, accepted by most of the community and evangelised by some of the most successful entrepreneurs in recent history.

9 out of 10 startups will fail, so if you’re going down this path you should not only have the resilience to deal with failure but also ensure you’ll have excellent learning experience even the startup fails. 

Think about those really bad days in the past. The moments when you failed an important exam or lost a race. How did you feel? How quickly did you get over it? 

2. How important is stability to me?

If you’re someone who likes regular office hours so you’re able to have an enriching non-work life, working for a startup may not be for you.

Startups might offer a more casual work environment, but the work can be just as difficult and exhausting as anywhere else. Long nights, projects falling through, ups and downs and stress are all part of the job, too.

3. Do I emotionally connect with these people? 

One of the first things a startup investor looks at is the team. A startup may go through several twists and turns, but it’s often the team who will make the startup a success or failure. You want to be sure that you’re not only joining a team of people who are talented and passionate about their work, but who will also make your work life interesting and enjoyable.

Try to be as honest with yourself as possible when evaluating the way they interact with each other and whether you feel emotionally connected to them. Are these the kind of people you’d want to spend a lot of time with?  Do the founders look like they’ll do anything to make their startup a success? Do the team listen to and support each other? Does everyone look happy here?

4. Can I see myself personally and professionally grow here?

As well as emotionally connecting with the team, you want to make sure they will help you grow and flourish. Do you think you’d enjoy working with these people? How can they develop your soft and technical skills? Would you feel comfortable challenging their point of view?

5. Will I advance my career and acquire new skills here?

What prospects and opportunities for progression does this job offer you? How will you develop and learn new skills? If you wanted to do an online or evening course to improve the quality of your work, would they support you?

6. Does the company understand its customers?

A startup will fail if they don’t understand the users of their product or service. If you haven’t asked them questions about this, you may want to ask the founder a few questions about their market. If they’re struggling to explain who they are targeting – their needs, desires and frustrations – then they are building a customer-driven product or service, which is usually bad news.

7. Does the business model make sense?

Is it scalable? Is there a strong, consistent revenue stream? Who are the main competitors in the market?

It’s likely that start-up founders will be happy to discuss this with you, but you should still do your own market research. How large is the addressable market? What are the adjacent markets and how could the startup cross over into them?

8. What is the company’s financial situation?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is: “Is the company’s mission something I can stand behind?” If you’re going to take a risk by joining a startup, it has to be something you believe in.

Then you need to decide whether the business plan is viable. Startup founders tend to be pretty guarded about the financial details of the company, but they should be willing to talk to you about the company goals, when they expect to be profitable, and how they plan to scale the business.

9. What is the culture like?

There are two things to examine to answer this question.

First, there’s the action and activities in the office. These are the stories about the Christmas party, wearing pajamas to work, a spontaneous water blaster battle, the epic scavenger hunt. These might seem inconsequential, but these aspects of office life are really important.

If you are going to spend a large amount of time and effort on this team, it's important to know that you will be a part of a culture that values what you value. Whether that’s a casual dress code and great holiday policy, or having fun with your colleagues.

Even more importantly are the core values. These tell you what the company looks for when hiring and how they tackle tough decisions.  

10. How will I be compensated?

Aside from salary there are a few other aspects of startup compensation you should know about. Startup job titles can carry less weight than corporate counterparts so it’s essential to know what professional development and career progression looks like.

When enquiring about the process for promotions and raises, you can ask: “Is it ad hoc or clearly defined with targets and timescales? What would be my career path in this company look like?”

After discussing salary and traditional benefits like health insurance, you should ask the founders about the possibility of equity compensation. If you are going to receive equity, make sure you know what this means and be sure to ask about the vesting schedule and whether you’ll deal with stock options or restricted stock. 

It's possible you will have to take a lower salary if you accept a new job at a startup, but there are many benefits that could make up for it. If you're bought into the startup's mission and their product, inspired by and emotionally connected with the people there, and expect to develop a range of skills during you time there, this could be a gamble worth taking.

Written by Izzy Griffin-Smith

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