Here’s why you should (or shouldn’t) work for an early-stage startup

Adapted from a session for On Deck First 50 fellows by Pete Huang (Bizops @ WorkOS, 15th hire at Airtable, ex-McKinsey).

It takes a very particular kind of person to thrive at early-stage startups. Are you that person?

If the following perks of working at a startup excite you, and you are genuinely okay with the disadvantages, then you should consider early-stage startups as your next career move. 

What you will get

  • Opportunity to learn: The pace of execution means months of learning in days. 
  • Work with smart people: You’ll work with smart people who are passionate about solving the biggest problems in the world.
  • Exposure to a problem: The all hands on deck nature of startups means you’ll get deep exposure to a problem. Engineering, operations, sales – you’re going to see the problem from every facet.
  • Problem ownership: You’re going to get ownership to solve these problems as well.

What you might not get

While it is possible to get these things at early-stage startups, they aren’t a guarantee. 

  • Mentorship: Your team isn’t there to provide you management cover so you’ll need to learn to become self reliant.
  • Nature of learning: Working at a startup will be the most unstructured learning of your career.
  • Title growth: People grow at startups by demonstrating impact. They earn it, rather than optimizing for the prize. Angling for promotions or title growth is the wrong approach.
  • Money: Startups are a bet. If you’re in it for the money, prepare to be disappointed.