Startup advice: What do I need to lookout for when joining a startup?

Here is a question typically asked in online forums “What do I need to lookout for when joining a startup?

Advice for those joining startups varies on the respondents’ perspectives and their personal experiences. We decided to crowdsource inputs from a variety of forums and tabulate them. Most respondents touched on risks and opportunity to learn and grow at a fast pace. Here is a summary of the collated inputs:

  • A job at a startup can be highly unpredictable. You may not actually be doing the work you interviewed for. You should
    • Be ready to learn and un-learn at a fast pace.
    • Be ready to work in chaotic environment
    • Be ready to face new challenges every day

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  • Be prepared for ups and downs and stay self-motivated
    • Most Start-Ups go bust. However, you’ll have more opportunities for advancement at an early stage
    • If the startup takes off, you will see your career taking off very fast.
    • If not, reflect on your learnings and the wisdom gained. It won’t be the end of the world.
    • Even if a startup goes bust, you would have developed a network of friends that will pay dividends later in your career.
    • Keep your senses grounded in case you need to leave a sinking ship


  • Distinguish between your personal life and startup-job
    • Working at startup can feel like a “family,” especially when everyone is having fun. However, even in a family, you would draw a boundary somewhere. Find your comfort zone and draw a boundary accordingly.
    • Make sure you have your own savings and safety-net. You will need this in case the startup fails or the burn rate is high or your pay is frozen.


  •  Compensation and Benefits
    • You may be offered cash and stock compensation. Balance them out since stock returns are not guaranteed
    • Most startups will not offer vacation and benefits (e.g medical insurance or 401k).
    • Startup culture can be fast paced and require logging long hours: Will you enjoy 60+ hour weeks making this a successful venture?


Business 101: Try and understand the business and the Business Model of the startup you plan to join

  • Understand the Market and target audience for the product
    • Is this company first to market or will join an existing marketplace?
    • Is this a niche product?
    • Understand competitors: Who are the competitors


  • Investors and funding
    • Does the venture have money- how long do they estimate it will last?
    • Try and understand the senior management’s exit plan. This may not be very obvious, and you can’t just ask about it; you will have to get a feel for it
    • Do they have funding for standard daily operations such as telephones and office supplies so you don’t end up paying for it out of your own pocket with a promise of being reimbursed at a later date.
    • Be aware of the funding cycles and plans for raising investments – If the burn rate exceeds the cashflow, watch out


  • Do you know the Managers and Executives?
    • A startup is not just offering you a job but “options” to be vested in the success of the venture.
    • Remember that interviewing at a Startup is a two-way process. Have regular chats and discussion with the hiring team. Make sure that you are as excited about the journey as they are!
    • Understand the founder/CEO and senior management’s vision and track record. Past performance is an indicator of future success. Have they led other successful startups and ventures?


Bottomline: If all this sounds like a “Business 101” lesson, it probably is. Financial upside of joining a startup at an early stage can be huge; but this comes with enormous personal and professional risks. Focus on yourself, and what you can learn while at a startup…. And remember to have fun!