Why You Should Never Work at a Startup
April 16, 2015

Why You Should Never Work at a Startup

by Brian de Haaff

You’re graduating or recently graduated. Congratulations. Here comes the future. And life is really going to get interesting. This is true for graduates this year and just about anyone who is just getting started in his or her career.

As a graduating senior, you have put time and energy into success. You studied hard, got the right grades, and will earn your degree from one of the world’s most prestigious universities. You can do anything — what choice will you make next?

Some of you will stay in school to pursue advanced degrees. Others will choose to join the workforce. Many of you will choose the path of entrepreneurship and look longingly at the startups in the Bay Area. As someone who graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has been CEO of three startups, I relate to that desire. We are fortunate to have quickly grown our current company, Aha!, from a startup to an emerging software powerhouse.

I also have worked at a number of large businesses too. Citrix [CTXS] acquired my last company and I spent three years as a VP of Product and Strategy.

The past few years have seen startup mania. Some articles lure you to “heed the siren song” of starting your own business. Others call startups “the new master’s degree.” But I must caution against being dismissive of starting your career in a larger company. Businesses with thousands of employees are training grounds that can shape your career. They teach you what you’re great at, how you’re most productive, and what you want to gain out of work.

Early on in your career, one thing matters above all else — always choose the option that offers the most personal growth. In this regard, most startups fail.

For new graduates fresh out of college, startups limit:

At companies with thousands of employees, you’ll get a front row seat to how businesses function. These companies also tend to have strong training programs — they are willing and able to invest in the right graduates so they can train them to be leaders over time. Startups are often strapped for resources. Their CEOs will focus on what you can do for them — not the other way around. For that reason, startups are often better options for entrepreneurs who have more experience.

Within big businesses, you’ll meet diverse groups of people. As you network and make friends within the company, they will share their insights and become your best career advisors. Remember a startup is a small business. They tend to be homogenous; founding teams often knew each other from previous companies and have migrated to create something new. This is a great option for you years down the line. But right out of college, this can limit your growth and lead to burnout.

A manager once told me that your twenties are for learning what you don’t want to do. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Many join startups once they have a solid idea of where they are going and how they want to get there. Larger organizations allow you to build your network, learn new skills, and figure out how you’re most productive. Regardless of which path you choose, that knowledge will help you.

For employees who have worked for a few years to hone their skills and narrow their passions, startups can be a rewarding path. But for many of you, they may stunt your development.

Larger companies are often maligned for their bureaucracy and lack of innovation. And they definitely have it. But they are also great places for recent grads to improve their skills and find their passions. Your earliest jobs might not leave you feeling the most fulfilled. But if you are astute, you can create your own career path.

This path might take you up the corporate ranks, or lead you to build something that matters as your own boss. Regardless, I think global corporations with thousands of employees have a lot to teach you about work and what you really love to do.

Brian de Haaff

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

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