When To Say No To A Startup Offer
Alright, let’s be honest. In the modern era, entrepreneurship is one of the biggest buzzwords out there. Starting your own business has never been easier, and it seems like stories of small startups hitting a gold mine of consumer need surface everyday. That being said, most do not actually make the cut. What we do not see in the media is the struggle that many face, particularly related to employee “fit” in a company still trying to discern its own identity. Particularly for college students of any kind, the offer of “getting in on the ground floor” of an enterprise can seem flashy and exciting. Having worked for multiple startups, I have learned the hard way that just because it is an option, does not mean it is the right option for you to take. Here are some red flags that may be important in deciding whether to take the position.
The Idea Does NOT Spark Joy
First of all, consider the organization itself. Do you believe in the mission? Does the work seem like something that will have you jumping out of bed in the morning to get to? If not, it is probably not the right place for you to be. Even if it seems like a lucrative pitch, it may mean months or years of miserable work, with no real end in sight. Even if the company grows and matures, you would still be stuck doing the same sort of role or under the same idea/product. Additionally, if a startup keeps telling you that you have to sign an NDA before disclosing their idea, be alert. Especially if you are going into a sales, marketing, or PR role. How are you supposed to advertise something to the public if it is completely under wraps? Ask these questions ahead of time, and make sure you are not being locked into any commitments before understanding and fully agreeing to participate.
Organization Seems Scattered
We have all been in at least one group project where it seems like no one has it together. People argue, overlap, and ignore each other. This is natural, but over an extended period of time this is not going to pan out. When it seems like no matter how many meetings you have or how many deadlines get pushed back, nobody seems to agree; that is when you need to start thinking about whether or not you want to remain in that group. It is best to avoid this by taking in all the different group dynamics within the organization when you first meet them. Oftentimes a startup is very small and it is easy to know who everyone is and what their roles are to fulfill. Usually you will be given a chance to come by the office and at least shadow someone in a role that is similar to yours. A heightened level of discontent can spiral out of control, especially when at the beginning of a company everything counts in terms of eventual funding or success. You want to make sure that roles seem clear and that there is a level of harmony between those you see interacting.
The Founder Complex is High
As with any creator, founders can be a little bit possessive over their ideas. It is their baby, and they want to make sure it grows and fulfills their expectations. This starts to be a problem when their vision overtakes the suggestions or the opinions of anyone else. Not only does this prevent you from creating the best product or service, but it also leaves you feeling unheard and unmotivated to strive for more. I once had a founder tell me right off the bat during a phone interview that most people would see her as a difficult boss because she is both very cheap and very high in her expectations of returns. It is okay to have a difficult boss, but one that brags about it themselves is giving you a sign that people have found her unsatisfactory to work for before, and that you will likely butt heads if you work under her. Structure is as important as creativity when it comes to a startup, especially since most do not pay interns or even full-time hires. You need to know you have a voice and an impact. Being used to create someone else’s vision can be done with far greater security at an established firm.
You Have Alternative Commitments
Think about what you already have to do in your day-to-day life. You might have to juggle classes, work, or other commitments such as sports. No matter how good the offer sounds, if it detracts the rest of your life, you may need to heavily scrutinize it. I myself have the tendency to overextend my commitments, and that means less quality work in all areas. If you know you already have two part-time jobs and are a full-time student, at the very least make sure your boss would have an understanding that your productivity levels may fluctuate based on the burden those prior commitments may put upon you.