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6 Common Myths About Working at a Startup

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Startups have a certain mystique. Whether you love or hate the idea of startup life — the long hours, the foosball tables, the high-pressure hacking — it’s tough to understand startup culture until you’re working inside it.

Plus, many startup stereotypes, clichés and maxims floating around aren’t true, or aren’t true for the majority of startups. All the misinformation can lead a job market newbie down the wrong road.

If you’re considering the plunge into Startup Land, stop buying into these myths first:

1. You must be a technical genius

Being tech-savvy is an important part of fitting into startup culture. But you don’t have to be a rock star super coder to succeed. Some of the most important startup roles — marketing, management, sales — don’t depend on a technical core.

But learning at least some basic technical skills will put you in a stronger position. Take an intro computer science course or HTML/CSS coding class from a place like Udacity, Udemy or Codecademy.

2. You have to work 80 hours a week, never sleep and stress constantly

Some startups will demand your life, body and soul. These are the companies that live off the crazy geek machismo that says if you’re not sleeping under your desk, you’re not working hard enough. And for some people, this is bliss.

But a lot of startups aren’t like that.

You do work hard. You do put in unusual hours. (Lovers of 9-to-5 need not apply.) You do bust your ass for all-hands-on-deck fire drills. But you aren’t expected to give 110 percent 24/7 — unless you’re planning on burning out within the year. Some startups have better work-life balance than their traditional counterparts. Take Treehouse, an ed tech company that prides itself on a four-day work week, for example.

Bottom line: You don’t need to believe the “be miserable now so you can enjoy your life later” mantra when you work at a startup. (Click here to Tweet this idea.)

3. Startup life is glamorous

With the endless Ramen-to-millionaire success stories pouring out of Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise many people think startups are a glamorous business. Yes, you’re more likely to find a ping pong table, free lunches and cutting-edge gadgets at a startup.

But when you get down to it, startups are basically small businesses. Isn’t it funny how “small business owner” sounds less cool than “startup CEO,” even though they’re essentially the same?

I often get asked “who’s the most famous person you’ve met?” or “what’s the biggest party you’ve gone to?” But running a startup isn’t about meeting people or going to parties. It’s about selling a product or service to a customer. And that’s hard work. — Wade Foster, CEO of the task automation startup Zapier.

4. Startup jobs are totally chaotic and unstructured

This myth really depends on the size of your startup, which can range from one guy in a garage to hundreds of employees in giant (and oh-so-cool) office space. In a 50-person team, everyone has structured and specialized areas. In a five-person team, little of your work will remain constant from day to day.

But that doesn’t mean your job will be complete chaos — it just means you have more responsibility to craft your own career growth. And this can be a big advantage, especially if you’re new to the workforce.

Startups can provide an amazing opportunity to experience different specialties, from business development to product testing. Once you find an area that clicks, you can steer your work toward that field as the company expands.

5. You have to live in Silicon Valley to work at a startup

Startups aren’t just for Silicon Valley hipsters anymore. Places like New York City, Boulder, Seattle, Cambridge and Washington, D.C. are among Entrepreneur’s top 10 cities for tech startups.

In fact, data shows high-tech startups are in every single state. You’re more likely to find startup gigs in metropolitan areas, but even smaller towns — like Bend, Oregon or Cheyenne, Wyoming — have opportunities.

6. Startup jobs are risky

Technically, this myth is true; by nature, startups are risky — about 75 percent of them fail. Even if your startup doesn’t flop, the constant pivots typical in startups often require big changes to your team.

But while startups won’t give you job security, they can provide career security. They set you up to be versatile, flexible and ready for whatever comes next.

Forget job security and invest in developing career security. Do this by solving hard problems on the bleeding edge. Develop relationships with people you can learn from who themselves have large and active networks of relationships. No better place to do this than at good startups. After a few years, you’ll be able to work wherever you want and will have higher compensation than you imagined you could because the pace of career progress is much faster at startups. — serial entrepreneur Simeon Simeonov

What startup myth would you add to the list?

Annie Rose Favreau directs content and community strategy for a tech startup in Seattle. You can find her Twittering away at @A_Favreau.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.jugarjugar.net/ Jugar Jugar

    Actually, this can not be done because it’s too much of a man. What lies in the ability to be able to do things right so its not real can be

  • Pingback: 6 Common Myths About Being a Startup Employee()

  • http://zapier.com Wade Foster

    Good post, Annie. A lot of people convince themselves that startups are a lot different than they really are. Glad you can shine some light on this.

    • AnnieFav

      Thanks Wade! Hope all is well at Zapier!

    • http://www.parafriv.net/ Para Friv

      Thanks Wade!

    • http://httpd.co/damn_quick_mvps/ Quick MVPs

      IMO, it is not a big problem people (wrongly) convincing just themselves of the real nature of a startup… it is when they start convincing others that the magnitude of the problem grows :)

  • Pingback: How to Motivate Your Startup Team to Produce Great Work | RICeoWeek()