For most developer positions interviews are usually 30 minutes technical talk and 10-15 minutes question time. If I would be interviewing for a large company, I would basically ask what previous projects that they have worked, how many years they worked for that company etc.

The problem with startups are, the person that you interview with is either the co-founder or the first developer who started working there. So that person would quite likely be working there since the formation. Instead, I have asked questions about multiple office locations, languages/technologies that they use for their main product, and if they are planning to develop a new product or the if following years will be based on their current product.

I am very interested to learn about a startup's finances but was never sure if it was professional to ask about their revenue and profit. For example, even if they got $2M funding, it wouldn't last anything more than 1-2 years if their team is over 10-20 people. Since I would like to work at a place I could be financially secured, I want to know information like this. But is it unprofessional to ask about a startup's finances during an interview?


2 Answers 2


It is not unprofessional to ask about finances.

When I interview for a position with a startup, I always ask the founders questions about finances. Questions I ask are typically from this list:

  • what is your funding model? (VC, private investors, self-supported, etc)
  • (if VC funded) who is in the funding round (so I can look up their track record later, if it's not obvious), what are the traunches, and how close are you to hitting the requirements for the next traunch
  • how long is the runway, or how long at the current burn rate until you run out of money, if nothing else changes
  • what is the sales model (even if you don't know a lot, or anything, about sales, you want to hear that there is one...)
  • what is the hiring plan (if you hear lots of numbers thrown around for hiring, but there's not enough runway to support that, that's potentially an issue).

When I interview people when I'm working for a startup (such as I am now), I expect to hear some question along these lines even though I'm not a founder. It doesn't exclude a person from candidacy if they don't ask, but when they do ask it tells me that they have some experience working for a startup or at least understand that financial situations can sometimes be tenuous. It adds a point for me to their "environmental awareness" score.


I think to ask a new company "how are you funded" is a reasonable and professional question - if you throw in your lot with the company you need reassurance that they can pay you (less of an issue with existing companies that have a proven business model since there you can judge for yourself if they look solid). However hardly any company would discuss projected revenue flow with their developers, let alone with people who are not even hired yet, so you should not expect (and IMO not ask for) financial details.

As for your other questions, if startups are not prepared to answer them it's not because their are the wrong questions, they are probably the wrong startups (i.e. any responsible employer should be able to anwser those).

But then I think you should not expect too much job security from most startups (apologies to all those well-funded, well planned startups of which there are many). As far as I have experienced working for startups is more a bit of a gamble, where you should negotiate a large reward if things go well, but where failure is always an option ( I'll admit that my personal experience is a bit dated, though).

  • 2
    You pretty much nailed it with the uncertainty factor. Usually the reward of working at a start-up from early on in their history is having a shot at cashing when the company goes public, and than happens only for 1 in 10000 companies. You essentially become a co-investor in a high risk project.
    – Onno
    Dec 17, 2013 at 11:26

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