Why are you joining a startup?

- work startups

Don’t join a startup just for it’s mission. Of course you shouldn’t join a company selling opioids or sugary drinks, that would certainly be a Bad Thing. But do not expect it to affect or shape your experience much at all. The reality of working in even the most compassionate startup is that:

Don’t join a startup as a generalist. And by generalist, I mean any role without specific ownership of, or responsibility for, an outcome on which the company is very dependent for its success. Nebulous titles like “business operations,” “growth,” or anything with “strategy” in the title are likely culprits.

The reasons:

Now, of course you should be a generalist under the hood at work, and in life! It’s how you get things done resourcefully. But there’s only one official generalist in a VC-backed company, and that’s the CEO. Is the only reason you want to be a generalist is because you don’t want to get your “hands dirty” in sales (the horror! You’d work in sales now) or you’d rather just “keep your options open?”

If you intend to “sell sales as a service” (or some equivalent) to your “client,” now we’re talking…

In short, it’s very hard to build a strong business of one as a generalist. Better not do it.

More speculative - don’t accept the classic VC-backed startup structure as a default mode of working in the first place!

Don’t join a “team” in name only. “Team” is often an inaccurate description of the startup environment. It’s a euphemism leaders and managers will prefer to use in order to uphold the fiction that startups are different from “corporate” where you’re just an “employee” (God forbid you become a “business man”) and to hide hierarchy that candidates might otherwise resist. Team implies equal footing. If someone owns significantly more of the business than you and has the power to tell you what to do, they are not simply your teammate anymore.

Think hard about whether joining a startup is really a good idea for you. Let’s not make this the next default, dysfunctional path for smart, energetic people that lack sufficiently-specific ambition.