5 things to consider before joining a tech startup

Today, there are lots of exciting tech startups building amazing products and raising millions of dollars in investments. This has opened up numerous employment opportunities for software developers and technology professionals. However, before you say yes to that startup, it is important to take some time and consider a few important tips—especially if you’re quite unsure whether it is the right career move for you.

Working at a tech startup is difficult but can equally be rewarding, frustrating and even confusing, depending on which one you find yourself in. As McKenna Quint, Head of People at Plaid, rightly pointed out, it is easy to equate startups with bell-ringing success and ending up with high valuations but that isn’t always the case—neither should it be a primary motivation for joining one.

Even in the best of times, startups are hard. They’re designed specifically for growth — and this comes with a set of unique challenges, risks and demands that you need to be ready for. Being motivated by the mission, customer delight and driving impact — those things will keep you going. Being motivated by structure and following traditional career growth paths will not keep you in the game.

McKenna Quint, Head of People at Plaid.

Whether you’re making the switch from a big multinational tech company or a smaller one or maybe you’re just starting off your tech career, here are some important tips that would guide you while choosing the right startup to join.

1. Work culture

In any business or organization, cultural fit is important. Whether you’re about to become a member of the founding team or an aspiring employee, ensure you have a clear understanding of what the culture of the company is and feel compatible with it.

Every tech startup today has its own rhythm of business, expectations, and style of work. Most tech startups typically have smaller teams and because you’ll be working hard to contribute to the growth of a product or service, your team members would become an important part of your life.

If during the interview stages or based on feedback from ex-employees or maybe your own personal research of the company, you are not excited about the people there, their mission and the product they are building, you will most likely underperform once you join the team.

Take some time to inquire about the company culture before joining a tech startup and ensure that you would enjoy being a part of it on a daily basis.

2. Financial status

It is important to know the financial status of a startup before joining as this would influence your financial situation as well.

There are different startup funding stages; from seed capital to series funding and eventually IPO. At every funding stage of a startup, their overall finances are impacted and once you know where the startup falls into, you can make a more informed decision.

You may find several tech startups that are still bootstrapping their way up without any external investors. This means that the daily operation of the business is being run with very little capital and personal finances from the founder(s).

In such businesses, you may get your salary late or there may even be some defaults. Eventually, you would end up sacrificing your time, energy and money in the process of building the business.

If this is something you are comfortable with, then you should go right ahead. However, if you are not looking to take such a financial risk, it is better to join a startup at its series funding stage or other later stages of funding.

3. Terms of contract, ownership and equity

Many tech startups offer equity or ownership in a bid to attract quality talent, especially from more established companies.

Before you decide to put pen on paper, always have a clear understanding of the offer being made. Take note of the type of shares being offered, the percentage of equity, and the potential rewards once everything matures. A startup that is looking to quickly exit but yet is still offering you equity is most likely the wrong place to work.

There are different types of shares and in some tech startups, some of these shares would never vest until the company has gone public. Ensure you gain a clear understanding of every word and term stated in your contract, so you’re not left feeling scorned afterwards.

4. Market fit

The burden of tech startups to succeed is immeasurable and with the competition stiffening, it’s all about who has the best product or service to offer an addressable market at the end of the day.

While some tech startups are living off a hype or a short period of boom, others have built long-lasting solutions that are a great fit for their intended market.

If you’re going to be part of the development team, it is necessary to ensure that you are building a sustainable product that addresses a certain market need. Without the right product, it’s only a matter of time before the entire business crumbles.

5. Work flexibility

Most employees at tech startup companies have their hands full with a lot of work, especially if the founders are bootstrapping the company from their personal finances. Therefore, before joining a tech startup, ensure that it provides you with enough flexibility to have a good work-life balance.

Many programmers are suffering from burnout and working in a high-intensity environment can feel like being on a roller coaster ride. Join a company whose culture promotes finding a balance between work and personal life with a work environment that allows you to thrive on all fronts.

Ultimately, tech startups are good for those looking to pull their weight and contribute immensely to the growth of a business. If these sorts of challenges excite you, then you would most likely thrive but like the popular saying, it is important to take a careful look before you leap.