leadership philosophy

Why I Work for Startups

In the tech industry, a “unicorn” is a company that has raised a round of funding that values the company at over a billion dollars. Every ambitious techie with an entrepreneurial spirit looks to these companies with a gleam of respect and envy in their eyes. In Y Combinator’s How to Start a Startup series, founders of unicorn tech companies warn potential founders against joining a startup for the wrong reasons. Movies like “The Social Network” represent startups as glamorous vessels of infinite potential and success, but in reality working for a startup usually boils down to a lot of hard work and stress.

Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder at Facebook, lists four misconceptions about working for startups:

  • It’s glamorous
  • You’ll be the boss
  • You’ll make a lot of money and have more global impact
  • You’ll have more work flexibility

Dustin then moves on to dismantle the validity of these ideas one at a time (I’d highly recommend watching the video for the full explanation). Basically, if you’re looking for any combination of these ideas you’d be better off working for an established company. In the end, Dustin concludes that the best reason to join a startup is because there’s an idea so compelling, so utterly fascinating to you that you must work on it. To use Moskovitz’ words, the idea has to be “beating itself out of [your] chest, forcing itself into the world”.

While Dustin is absolutely right, I believe there are other good reasons to work at a startup. Many of these reasons are the same reasons someone would decide against taking the plunge, but they’re exactly what I’m looking for in my career.

Influence Over the Company’s Direction

While working for a larger company might net me more influence on the direction of the world, I can’t beat the direct influence I have on the direction of my startup. At a startup, things are in general much more fluid and open to change, from technological tools to the sales process. I crave responsibility in my work and having a significant effect on the success or failure of my company matters a lot to me.

Lots of Ownership

Working for a startup makes me feel responsible for the success of not only the projects I’m working on, but the company as a whole. At a startup I can craft (and take pride in) something I believe in. Realizing that no one’s going to make things work if I don’t rise to the challenge motivates me to push myself every day.

You Matter a Lot to Your Teammates

In a startup, I rely heavily on the dedication of my team, and vice versa. In larger companies it’s acceptable to have people who aren’t contributing or who aren’t a good fit. In a startup there is simply no room for anything other than a collaborative, ego-less, “leave nothing behind” attitude, and I can see that attitude reflected in everyone I’m working with. The feedback loop of passion and energy I get from my teammates at a startup is incredible.

It’s Hard

Simply put – I want to be challenged, and there’s no challenge quite like joining a startup. Living a comfortable life is not my goal. I want to be constantly striving to be better in everything I do. For me, working for a startup provides a strong impetus to improve myself and my company every day.