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6 Ways to Figure Out If Working for a Startup is Right for You

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“There are two kinds of people: those who have what it takes to work for a startup company, and those who don’t.” – startup recruiter Leslie Ayres (@JobSearchGuru)

Working at an early-stage tech company can be risky, exhilarating and exhausting. The growing hip-factor of startup life — plus the distant possibility of joining the Millionaire’s Club — means more job hunters are considering the plunge into startups. But startups really aren’t for everyone.

How do you know if you have what it takes to succeed in Startup Land?

1. You’re awesome at what you do

You can’t be mediocre in a startup. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

Well, you can, but it’s the sign of a bad startup if leadership doesn’t immediately cut any team member who isn’t pulling their weight.

But you don’t have to be an industry thought leader or have more than 15 years of experience to be awesome at what you do. You do need to commit 100 percent to producing excellent work on every project. You do need to create stuff that actually has value. And the minute you fail — which you will — you do need to instantly correct your mistake and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Being awesome is as much an attitude as a fact.

2. You don’t expect overnight success

We all hear about startups that seem to explode overnight. But the reality is less exciting.

“The truth is that these success stories are often built on the back of years of hard work, struggle and any number of previous failures,” startup veteran Sam Jones says. “Take video game developer and entertainment company Rovio Entertainment, for example. They spent eight years working on other games and were close to bankruptcy before finally hitting it big with Angry Birds, which went on to become the best-selling iOS game ever.”

Bottom line: you’ve got to be ready for the long haul.

3. You aren’t in it for the money

Most early-stage startups don’t have oodles of money to throw around (or any cash at all; some companies start with only equity packages and pizza). Compared to an entry-level job at an established corporation, your salary will be probably be cringe-worthy.

But there are plenty of other reasons to join a startup:

  • You’ll absorb new experience like a sponge. Working for a startup is like drinking from a fire hose: an abundance of new information and new projects hits your desk 24/7. Although you won’t have the same lifestyle as your corporate friends, you’ll probably get a heck of a lot more hard experience.
  • You have passion for an idea or product. Do you truly believe your startup’s core idea or product could change the world? That’s a compelling reason to commit to a company.
  • You’ll learn from everyone around you. Surrounding yourself with smart people is a good career move. Even if the startup ultimately fails, you’ll still be building an awesome network of intelligent, engaged individuals who will probably go on to be involved in other intelligent, engaging projects and can bring you along.

4. You want to work wide, not deep

With a small team comes great responsibility. There are a ton of areas to cover in an early-stage company: Who’s tracking the finances? Who’s crafting the pitch? Who’s running the Twitter account? Who’s cleaning the toilet?

While you’ll probably be hired to fill a certain role, it doesn’t mean your responsibilities end there. You’ve got to adapt a “whatever it takes” motto, not “that’s someone else’s problem.”

If you’re not comfortable wearing many hats (and you know “wearing many hats” can sometimes translate into “doing a lot of scutwork”), startups aren’t for you.

5. You can ride the waves

Startups are often a series of failures, pivots and 180-degree shifts.

“If a bit of chaos mixed into your coffee every morning doesn’t get you excited, then startup life isn’t for you,” says Stewart Masters, co-founder of Clubkviar & Kviarcity. “Things change continually, 60 percent of the time every time (yay Anchorman).”

Since almost every startup has adopted the agile methodology, you have to design, create, launch and iterate at breakneck speed. What you’re working on today may change by tomorrow morning — not a great environment for anyone who’s risk-averse or loves consistency.

As SecondMarket’s Aishwarya Iyer puts it, “It takes a certain type of person to thrive in this environment. You need to have everlasting curiosity, be comfortable with change and have the ability to quickly adapt.”

6. You thrive on strong company culture

Traditional hierarchies and bureaucratic systems often fall by the wayside in the startup world. Intense company culture — both the surface-level elements like Hawaiian Shirt Fridays and deeper aspects like sharing the same motives, values and approach — is a huge part of startup life.

“With a cool startup culture comes fun benefits,” explains Masters. “I wear what I want to work… I’m surrounded by people who are working towards the same goals and who have the same drive and excitement, I play ping pong in my boxer shorts, drinking Mai Tais while pitching investors, I do late night work sessions with team bonding (group hugging and meditation), I work from home when I want to and have a huge cuddly bear next to my desk. Could I ask for anything else?”

Do you have what it takes? Let us know in the comments!

Annie Rose Favreau is a Seattle-based content strategist, freelance writer and startup problem solver. You can find her Twittering away at @A_Favreau.

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