7 Signs You Shouldn’t Work for a Startup

Cat Miller


With their potential to create the next big thing, let you swim in money after a successful IPO, and offer a fun team atmosphere they’re known to foster, working at a startup can hold a lot of appeal. But if you’re thinking of working for one, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses.

The truth is startups come with a lot of risk. They’re hard work and definitely aren’t for everyone. So first thing, make sure the startup life is right for you. Here are a few signs it may not be:

  • You’re looking for a clearly defined job description. If you are looking to start your next job with a good understanding of what your day-to-day responsibilities will be, the job you’re looking for probably isn’t at a startup. At a new company, there’s nobody to iron out the kinks before you. You’ll face new challenges every day as you define your role and the company develops.
  • Similarly, if you’re nervous around change, you probably won’t last. Daily responsibilities are always changing because new companies are constantly evolving. So, difficulty with change is a non-starter.
  • You’re excited to work at the startup, rather than excited about the product. The percentage of startups that are successful is pretty small — most of them fail. So if you’re waiting around to cash in, you could be waiting a long time.
  • You don’t thrive under stress. All the risk that creates the potential for success also creates a lot of pressure not to screw up. As they say, if you can’t deal with the heat, get out of the kitchen.
  • You don’t want to be held accountable. One of the appeals of a startup is that you can often gain more responsibility in lower-level roles. And if you create something great, you get your name attached to it. Of course if you screw up, well, that’s yours too.
  • You feel uncomfortable or threatened by strongminded, opinionated or passionate people. These are the people that tend to start companies. Sorry.
  • You have difficulty maintaining a work-life balance. Startups are known to be a lot of hard work and long hours, but a good company culture isn’t built with workaholics. To survive for an extended period of time, you’ll need to be able to find a balance.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of playing Foosball to break up your workday or free beers to celebrate accomplishments. But it’s important to keep in mind that working at a startup is very different from working at a big, established company. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you make the jump.

Do you have experience working at a startup? Would you consider it? What reservations do you have? Let me know in the comments below.


Dice TV


6 Responses to “7 Signs You Shouldn’t Work for a Startup”

December 03, 2013 at 8:57 pm, Wharfie said:

The biggest downside to working at a startup is the almost inevitable failure. I don’t mean the fact that your options become less than worthless. I mean the long draw out goodbyes as people drift away to their next gig, or the sudden shock of separation when you show up for work and find the IRS has padlocked the doors. The realization that all that work building what was probably a darn good product (or at least a darn good implementation of a questionable product 🙂 was more or less for nothing except your probably less than industry average paycheck.
The dissolution of the team and the vaporization of the idea you’ve dedicated so much of your life to for the past 1,2, or maybe even 5 years is what hurts. And don’t get me started on acquisitions. That’s like the difference between dying of tuberculosis and getting hit by a bus.

December 03, 2013 at 11:56 pm, AC said:

Unless you are going to start a business while in college, startups may be the only way you can get your first break in your chosen industry. When I tried to find entry level work, it was a no go. At the time, I had an AA, a BS in Bio, and nearly an AS in programming. Plus, I had customer service experience, management experience, and sales experience. I could not find anything (nothing in Bio either unless I was willing to go get a masters, certifications, etc.).

In order to get a break, I had to drive more than an hour and a half round trip for about minimum wage to start. No health insurance, no vacation pay, no dental, no vision, no sick days, no bonuses, and I was not even getting 40 hours a week of hourly pay.

This is a far cry from when I was a store manager or a territory sales rep only a few years ago.

I did not take the job for the pay or the benefits. I did not take it because I love to argue or because I really like to debate,. My goal was to learn and I like to find solutions to problems. I like to fix things and understand why things work the way that they do.

I knew I was going to take my lumps, but I had a chance to learn by getting into the middle of a variety of things, including problems. This was better than letting the little bit I knew rot and I felt it would be better than the training videos I was watching.

Tough work and it was not always fun, but I’m glad I was in a position that I could sacrifice and afford to do it.

Yes, startups are not for everyone. Think carefully before choosing one.

December 04, 2013 at 2:10 pm, Tim Woods said:

Great article.

Another great reason why you shouldn’t join a startup is because if you apply for a job in the future (because you undoubtedly will) you will often be dismissed by management as overqualified.

Here’s the rationale:
When you work at a startup, you often work on efforts outside your immediate department – like if you are an engineer, you may not only code, but you can be an architect, write documentation and see customers – many of these tasks are done by multiple people in a company so you may freak them out by your willingness to work on multiple tasks.

Unless your prospective hiring manager worked at a startup too, s/he may wonder if you may be “happy” focusing on a single task or even be afraid that you may want their job.

I personally have had this happen at least once and it’s very frustrating and no matter how hard you try to convince them you are willing to do the job, they won’t listen.

December 05, 2013 at 11:49 am, Scott Newall said:

Great video – Everything you said is TRUE!

I left the corporate world to get away from the high-pressure and treadmill and I felt I’d find a much simpler life working in the technology start-up world. Or so I thought.

I have worked for three start-ups over the past nine years and each one either failed, or was absorbed by another company that eliminated our jobs because they already had people doing what we did, and all they really wanted was our unique software platform and installed base of customers.

Yeah, you can come to work in jeans and a golf shirt, and you actually get to see the owner every day, how cool is that? Sounds really great until the day the owner walks in and tells everyone he is really sorry but he has decided to sell the company and you’re on your own.

There is a place for these specialized technology start-ups, just be weary of the pitfalls that can happen to you when you least expect it. If you chose to work in that environment, make sure you have tough skin.

December 05, 2013 at 1:14 pm, RegularGuy said:

Early on in my IT career, I tried working for a ‘hot’ startup company. I took the chance that a little less salary would pay off handsomely in stock options later. Imagine my surprise when the business cycle tanked, the company went under, and my valuable, but unvested options became worthless.
Gamble if you want, but know that external forces – ones you can’t see, and can’t predict – may wipe out years of your effort.

December 05, 2013 at 8:03 pm, Stimpy said:

When I worked in a semi-start up (had been in business for a while) the joke was that we would rather have tupperware than be given options. We were correct.