The Only Reason You Should Join a Startup
April 8, 2016

The Only Reason You Should Join a Startup

by Brian de Haaff

I had an eye-opening conversation with someone last year. We were at a co-working space discussing the startup he worked for. Curious to learn more, I asked what compelled him to join. He paused for a moment while he thought about his answer.

“Well, I guess I have been thinking about how to make a lot of money,” he said. “So I figured, ‘Why not give a startup a shot?'”

Perhaps I should not have been so surprised. Money is on the mind when we make career decisions — especially in a weak economy. We all want to work hard and be rewarded for it. So, it is natural to look at our options.

Investing your efforts in a growing business can be a wise move. I chose to work at Aha! in 2014 when we were an early-stage company because the role aligned with my long-term career goals and my values aligned with the culture. We have since emerged as one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies. So, my decision paid off.

I realize that everyone has different motivations. And it is foolish to pretend that money does not matter. But it is far from the be all, end all. And I worry when I watch folks join early-stage companies with dollar signs in their heads.

The lure of a big payday tempts some to focus on startups as their lottery ticket to wealth.

Not only is that a long shot: this line of thinking ignores the stronger benefits of starting out with a new venture. The teams that build the most successful businesses are motivated by vision — not money. Joining one of these teams offers you the chance to:

Work with the best Early-stage companies attract special people. It is rare to find a complacent colleague. High-growth teams do not have time for that — they are too busy interacting with urgency and putting people first. So, you will likely work with some of the most devoted colleagues you will ever have who are motivated by the right reasons. These connections are deeply rewarding on personal and professional levels.

Learn valuable skills You can learn more in one year at a growing business than in five years at a big one. That’s because there is no shortage of work to do. And if you have a healthy sense of curiosity, then an early-stage company is the best place to fulfill it. Joining the right team gives you room to grow — both within your role and upwards within the organization. This process gives you the autonomy to expand your skill set.

Build something lasting Do you like being the first to build something? Then an early-stage company could be the place for you. You might be the first person to write your brand’s editorial guidelines or inspire a new onboarding technique. Your work will have a lasting impact as the company grows. That is a special legacy.

Money is important, but it is not everything. If you receive an offer from an early-stage company, give it your full consideration — but not for the equity you might earn and what it might one day be worth.

Instead, evaluate your offer based on the right reasons. Does the role present a strong fit for your skill set; market-rate salary and benefits; a cohesive culture; and growth opportunities? If so, then jump on the rocket and enjoy the ride.

But do not accept based on the premise that it will be your path to early retirement. That thought is like a unicorn: a nice idea that likely does not exist.

What do you think is the most compelling reason to join a startup?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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