Why You Shouldn’t Work at a Startup

why work at startups

My journey with startups started relatively late in my career. I had worked at one ad agency (for the first three years) and then a research-based financial publication (for the next 8 years) before I joined a startup.

Since then, in the past five years, I’ve worked at clearTax, smallcase and Razorpay, before joining Paytm very recently. 

All of these are startups building fantastic products that have a huge base of happy customers. I consider myself to be very lucky to have taken part in their journey. 

But the ride, while it has been a very good one, has given me ample experience to tell you that you shouldn’t work at a startup – for the wrong reasons.

Haha, of course the headline is clickbait. But since you’re here, hear me out. 

There are right reasons and wrong reasons to work at startups, and you shouldn’t make the decision based on the latter. 

Allow me to elaborate on the wrong reasons for working at startups.

If you’re eyeing the glamour and glitter

Startups are in the limelight a lot. There are new-age publications that are dedicated entirely to reporting about startups. There’s so much talk about startups on social media. All of which makes startups look more glamorous than maybe even the film industry.

But that is of course not the case. Once you’re inside a startup, the glamour is replaced by grunt work. I don’t mean grunt work in terms of thankless and menial labour; I mean work that is often boring and repetitive. But important, nonetheless.

Startups also require endless hours, days, weeks and months of doing the same things. Because long-term gains require long-term efforts. So, don’t come for short-term glory; come to learn how patience and persistence can also be greatly rewarding.

Because the founder is a social media celeb

Social media allows us to put startup founders on a pedestal. They tweet gyaan, they raise money for their startup and become rich enough to invest in other startups, they appear at media events – it’s easy to revere them.

It’s also easy to want to emulate them. They’re the face of the startup, after all. But what is not easy to see is the tens and hundreds of other folks who are working hard behind the scenes. 

No successful startup is a one-man operation. The success stories that you see in the media is actually a team effort. So, don’t come because the founder is so cool; come because you’ll get to meet and work with a ton of exceptional folks across domains and expertise.

Because you heard about the big salaries at startups

We’ve all heard stories about startup employees earning in crores. But in reality, these are few incidents of a few people at a few startups. There is no pot of gold waiting for everyone at a startup.

What is there waiting for you is the opportunity to create real value by helping solve real problems. The work that you’ll do at a startup will have a lasting impact on your customers as well as on your career.

That is not to say that startups pay peanuts. In my experience, startups pay well; nothing exorbitant but better than what traditional companies pay. So, don’t come to become rich instantly; come to acquire skills that will help you build wealth.

If you’re tired of the tedious corporate culture

There’s no bigger lure than a startup’s culture. Stocked pantries, free snacks and lunches, pool tables, ping pong tables, office interiors with motivational quotes, bean bags, flexible hours – who doesn’t want all of that?

Compared to corporate cultures, startup cultures feel like a playground but it is no walk in the park. In my opinion, cultures – at corporates or at startups – can often be a facade. Cultures change from teams to teams within any type of company.

The free snacks and bean bags won’t mean much to you if you end up under a poor manager. On the other hand, you’ll enjoy your work even without the amenities if you’re working with a good team. So, don’t come for the fancy swag; come for a product, service or industry that you believe in and want to make an impact in.

The right reasons

To learn, to explore, to enjoy – those are the right reasons to work at a startup. And they are also the right reasons to work anywhere else. Or to do your own thing. 

Startups are media darlings; they’re all over social media. So, it is easy to think of a job at a startup as a dream job. But that doesn’t mean that a job anywhere else is a nightmare. 

Wherever you choose to work – at a startup, or a corporate, or a bank, or a retail outlet, or a media house, or an agency, or a manufacturing unit, or anywhere else – make the choice for the right reasons and you’ll be good.

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