Start-up myths on stability, hours worked and equity
Don’t believe the start-up hype. I worked for 10 years in corporate America and 10 years in a startup. I learned a lot in corporate America, but the learning curve skyrocketed when I got to start-up.
Working in HR, I am asked about what it is like working in a startup on a pretty regular basis. There are three start-up myths that come up time after time, and I would like to provide my perspective and ease your concerns:
- Stability of a start-up: Start-ups don’t last, they go out of business.
- Hours: Start-ups ask you to work like a slave.
- Equity: My friend worked for a company and his stock options are toilet paper.
Stability of the start-up: First and foremost, no one should rely on any one company for long-term financial stability. I want to rely on my skill set and my ability to get a job. Relying on any one company for financial stability is ludicrous in this economy. Companies diversify because they don’t want to rely on a single revenue stream and neither should you. In a bygone generation, it was acceptable to think we would work for a single company and retire with a gold watch. It didn’t always happen, but it was an acceptable thought. Those days are gone. Sayonara and Adios. Big, iconic fortune companies have proven that to us in recent years. Washington Mutual, a bank in my own backyard, Ford Motor Company, and multiple financial institutions have left employees with less than nothing. A washed-up pension/retirement plan and a narrow skill set that wasn’t very transferable.
When folks from the corporate world talk to me about stability, or how I could leave for a start-up, they talk to me in disbelief. They think I am stupid, naïve, a lemming, or all of the above for joining a start-up.
I have news for you Johnny “Corporate Until Laid-off and LEft Dangling”. You didn’t just get punked, you got CULLED.
No company is safe anymore. “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.”
I don’t think anyone can predict if any one company is going to be around in 10 years let alone 20. Regardless of the size of the company, I am looking for any potential employer only 2-3 years out. At the end of 2-3 years, I will re-evaluate the company and if the company is growing and offering opportunity I will re-up.
You shouldn’t think of ANY company in terms of 10-20 years of stability. We have seen employees invest 10-20 years in a company and then be kicked to the curb with a very narrow set of skills. Skill sets so narrow and niche they are not transferable. This is part of the reason for long job searches.
Hours: I don’t work more hours in startup a than I did when I was in corporate. When I was in corporate I felt like I worked a lot more hours, but it was because I was the only guy dumb enough to work those hours. There was a traffic cop outside the building directing traffic at 4:30 as the rats raced to get home. With the lights turned off at 6, the message they were sending was “go home, the work will be here tomorrow”.
I love what I do. Cliché I know, but I don’t look at the hours I am putting in as work. This HR geek maybe some employee’s nightmare, but I really enjoy HR. After work, I am adding to this blog, and taking classes to keep my HR certifications current. On the weekend, I am volunteering my time to coach candidates on interviewing skills and career development.
Professional athletes do not quit practicing at 5:00 and take it easy on the weekends. The great ones practice from dawn to dusk. They are constantly working on their craft so they can take their game to the next level. If they want to stay competitive, they need to practice, study and learn. Some will say they are paid well and should practice. Malcom Gladwell doesn’t reference th 10,000-hour rule for nothing.
I look at the time as an investment in my career. Getting shit done means I can strengthen my resume with bigger and better bullet points. These accomplishments take my game to the next level and give me options. Yes, folks that work in start-ups may work a few extra hours, but at the end of the day, they are getting better at their craft quicker, faster, and learning more.
Don’t look at the hours as an investment in the company as much as an investment in yourself. The company is a vehicle for your investment.
Equity / Toilet Paper:
I will be the first to admit, that I will be hard pressed to join a company that doesn’t offer stock options to all employees. It isn’t because I am greedy, I am. When a company does NOT offer stock options to everyone, it is sending a very directed message to the employees. When all employees have equity in a company, then everyone is an owner in the company. There is a difference between everyone having a piece of the company and everyone working “for the man”. It’s called “selling your soul” and we have all seen the ending of that story. A few folks get rich and the rest go hungry.
As it relates to the startup world, I really like what this wise man once said: “Options are a binary thing. In the end, they either make a difference or they don’t. Do not look to any single company to make you a multi-millionaire. Go to any one company to build your skill set, to make an impact on the people you work with, the managers you report to, and the investors that invest in the company.” If you make a positive impact on company to company, the rest will take care of itself.
If you are going to work in a start-up strictly for the equity, you are going there for the wrong reasons. You will always be chasing a shinier startup.
Funny, as often as I hear about the above three as concerns, I never hear anyone question the opportunity. There is no myth here; there is plenty of opportunity. Are you ready to elevate your game?
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.