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I'm considering working at a 1-2 year old start-up, and I'm wondering what the benefits will be. We haven't gotten to negotiations yet, but I am getting the sense that the job will be a lot of work due to the newness of the company. Am I wrong in thinking that, from my perspective, this will mean a lot more work for me, all so that the people at the top can one day sell the company and make their own profits? How is this better than something more "stable"?

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    If they are not giving you stock options then for the same salary I would go with a more stable company every time. Be aware of reverse splits. I feel like you learn more in a structured company. I did two start ups that went no where and yes I learned to wear a lot of hats but I did not gain much marketable technical skills. – paparazzo Mar 19 '15 at 15:53
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Cons:

  • You will be working long hours
  • You will experience periods of instability; company finances, growth, strategy changes, etc.
  • You will be asked to wear many hats
  • You will have to learn new tools, techniques, processes, etc.

Pros:

  • You will be working long hours creating something new, cool, awesome, needed, important (hopefully)
  • You will have the opportunity to learn new skills in new roles
  • You will work with new tools, techniques, processes, etc.
  • You will have less bureaucracy to deal with (hopefully)
  • You will be able to have a distinct, definite, and significant impact on the success of the company.
  • And on and on

If financial stability is something you put high on your list of needs from a job, a true start-up might not be for you. If you like challenges and new experiences, a start-up might be for you.

As to "lots or hard work for those up-top to sell and make lots of money". Negotiate a salary you are happy with and equity or options which will allow you to share in the company's eventual success. If those "up-top" aren't busting their humps as hard or harder than you -- don't join that start-up, it will fail.

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Startups are more likely to offer some sort of stock options if they make it big one day than a stable company. And "stable" companies get bought all the time, but they tend not to fail as often as startups. That's how you get to be a stable company I guess.

You have to decide what you want and what you're willing to do to get it. If you're so caught up with the negative notion that your work makes other people money, get over it. Bill Gates made more off of Microsoft than just about anyone else, but the company did create a couple of other billionaires and over a thousand millionaires. None of this includes the people who use their software (like programmers) and make way more money off of their software than they paid for it.

Even if you own a company that gets bought out, the company you sold it to will get even more money if they sell it again. Maybe you should consider working for non-profits?

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As someone who has worked in both types of organizations, I would like to provide some perspective.

Some advantages of startups include:

  • Usually more recent, and therefore marketable and interesting
    technologies and other technical aspects of work (such as supporting project management, version management tool etc)
  • Generally, more interesting, energetic, proactive, competent people
    unafraid to venture into uncharted territory, from whom you can learn a lot.
  • Exposure to make more difference and participate in the formative
    stages of new product development, which, if it does take off, can
    make you exponentially more valuable in the organization later on.
  • Office perks such as nice coffee, nut racks, ping pong and foosball
    tables, all the way up to even a beer fridge or even a liquor cabinet (seen it all)

Disadvantages include:

  • Your job is less secure
  • You are expected to have no work-life balance and most startups nowadays have a somewhat arrogant approach that their mission is so cool that you should forfeit the rest of your existence to it.
  • As it is an entity in development, work flows are usually less firmly determined, meaning less protocol and more demands on the fly. This bothers some people more and some people less. I tend to like more structure. This can also be an advantage if you like participating in devising work flows and processes and especially if you are into dev ops or configuration management, you can really provide lots of building blocks.
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From the way you phrase that question, I suspect you would not find a start-up compatible with your personal needs.

The cons of a startup as I see them (and admittedly They are not my preffered place to work) are:

  • Your paycheck is not guaranteed. All too many people I have known who worked in startups have had a period of one or more months when they didn't get paid. The one time I worked in what was a partial startup (our part of teh business was a start-up) we actually tried to beat each other to the bank (we got actual paper checks) to make sure ours would not bounce if there weren't enough funds to cover everyone.
  • You will work long hours. And by long I don't mean 45-50 I mean more like 60-80 hours a week. Some startups actually encourage you to sleep in the office.
  • Start-ups fail at an alarming rate. When they start to fail, things get really bad, really fast. And it isn't easy to look for another job while you are working an 80 hour week.
  • Start-ups often have unprofessional managers who can't figure out the business side of things. They also tend to have a frat boy atmosphere that I find personally repellent but which I suppose is ok if you are a signle white guy who is not yet 30.

Pros:

  • Usually the work is interesting
  • Most people seem to prefer new dev to maintenance
  • You really get to stretch your skill set
  • If you negotiated well when you came in, there is a possibility of a big payoff if the company wildly succeeds.

They do have less bureaucracy. This is both a plus and a minus. Great when things are going well, really bad when they are not.

Questions to ask before taking a job at a startup:

  • What is their product(they may require a signed non-disclosure to divulge). Use this to evaluate what you think is the probability of success.
  • How are the funded and what is their business plan? Even if they won't give you the exact numbers, they should be able to give you enough detail that it shows they are being managed professionally as opposed to those start-ups who are just playing.
  • What type of equity in the company will you get? When will you be fully vested?
  • What type of working conditions.Stay away from the ones with super amazing workplaces with all sorts of games and cool things, they may have put their moeny into the wrong things and are far more likely to fail. Look for the ones that put their money in the project and the actual computer equiment you will use to build the product. So hot tub - probably a risky place, 3 monitors for every dev - much more focused on getting the work done, so less risky.

If you are going to a start up, I recommend having several months salary saved (or immediately starting to save it) because when they fail, they fail fast and you may need that money. You are taking a risk, if you aren't the kind to mitigate that risk throughyour own actions, you are taking a much bigger risk.

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