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Do Your Career Goals and Objectives Fit With a Start-up?

Searching for the right software engineering job involves potential risk and reward.  Even the savviest job search veterans need to first evaluate their own needs and then investigate their potential employers with a healthy level of scrutiny.  This is true particularly for start-ups.  Let me share with you five questions everyone should ask themselves before joining a start-up.

1. What is my Risk Profile?

Start-ups can be risky.  They require you to devote significant time, may fail quickly, and equity arrangements will likely reduce your compensation.  Be honest about your tolerance for risk.  If you always take the safe route, perhaps you should continue to take the safe route.  You can view risk in different ways, however, so consider the following points when assessing risk:

Skill set and technology can mitigate risk.  Moving to a technology that is hot in the market may help you succeed even if the start-up eventually fails.  Remember, the technology you are building matters now and later on in your career.

Stability can change fast: Let’s think about the most recent fiscal crisis.  Bear Stearns was a very safe, stable company until the moment it failed.  Don’t be handcuffed by a false sense of security.

2. Am I Ready to Commit?

Generally, start-ups have an 18 to 24 month window to take off.  People are attracted to the idea of either a big financial windfall or at least becoming a better developer or engineer.  Can you commit to enthusiastically working 12 hours a day on this project?  Evaluate your life and your goals before making the commitment.  It will serve you and the company well to be open and honest about your expectations.

3. Can I Flex my Tech Muscles and my Team Muscles?

Technical chops are a requirement for most start-ups, and there must be a strong technical foundation in place before joining an early-stage company.  Beyond aptitude, ask yourself whether you can build some rapport on the other side of the table during the interview.  Put yourself in a start-up’s position.  The founders tend to be sensitive about finding talent and assuring each hire fits well from a personality perspective.  The margin for error is low, the time frame tight, and the hours long.  Go with your gut and be honest about whether a particular start-up is the right fit. You must be able to articulate why you like a start-up.

4. Do I Understand the Product and The Exit Strategy?

This sounds simple, but enthusiasm can obscure the product at some start-ups.  Invest the time to truly understand what they are building and how they are going to make money with it.  That being said, be wary of companies where the business plan can handcuff the tech team and the technology investments needed to bring it to market.  The key is finding the proper balance and it isn’t always completely obvious.

5. Who Else Has Bought-In?

Evaluate the founders, the customers and the VCs.  Have the founders started other companies? What was their role in other start-ups? Who are the VCs involved?  Do they have any big wins?  Have they invested in a start-up in the same segment or is it new territory for them?  Funding is a benchmark and a third party approval of the start-up’s business plan.  It can serve as an indicator of potential and success. In a way, the VCs are doing a lot of the due diligence and competitive market analysis for you.  If they have invested successfully in space like this before – even better.

Joining a start-up can be very rewarding both financially and from a skills development perspective.  Just know what you are getting into beforehand.  Use these five questions to vet them for yourself.  Now is a great time to move if you feel comfortable with the answers.

Photo Credit: Designer Fund