How will your career progress if you go straight into a startup job?

Dec 10, 2017

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Advance

In a provocatively titled 2012 article for Fast Company, Harvard alumnus and Betterment founder, Jon Stein, explored the question “Are startups career suicide?” in an attempt to sort out the common misconceptions and realities.

A young professional told Stein they thought working for a startup would only work out well if it was “Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or any of the other Cinderella stories we love hearing about”. For this guy, the risk was too much.

5 years on, East London’s Silicon Roundabout has “8x more tech firms than any other UK hub” and Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow have developed their own thriving, densely populated startup hotspots too.

While some career paths will always be traditional, it’s not prudent to assume a structured graduate job with a professional institution is the best way to start every career. 37% of grads are aiming straight for a startup when they jump into the world of work, and the number of company directors under 30 has gone up to 311,550. Taking a risk at the very beginning is clearly an appealing prospect for lots of graduates.

But when there is no set trajectory, how is your career likely to develop? Can you hope to increase your salary and responsibility gradually just like any other job?

Learning as much as you can with no blueprint

Starting your career in a startup gives you the freedom to learn a huge amount in an unrestrained environment. You’re unlikely to experience a structure where you have a set mentor or individual targets to track your progress, instead there are goals for the whole team to meet, and you work out your own place in that big plan. This can sometimes involve sacrificing higher pay at the very beginning, but pleasingly the average salary for business and product startup jobs in London is just under £40k.

While many are happy with fewer boundaries, salary conversations happening over a pint, and a little bit of career vulnerability, some would find that lack of structure difficult to sustain. Ideally, a startup suits those who can light a fire underneath themselves and get a bit of a buzz from an uncertain future.

Tableau Software founder, Christian Chabot, thinks the ideal startup team needs to love the fact they’re “quietly working on something that is going to be really, really important”. Formal processes can feel like a hindrance when you just want to get on with a project.

You’ll be hot property for a big corporate

At the beginning of your career, a startup job can give you a huge boost in self-confidence and skills, because you’re trusted to move between the roles, from UX to sales and marketing and back again.

Your CV will be jam-packed after even just a couple of years in a startup, making you a very attractive prospect for a big corporate or multi-national looking for experience only a startup environment can bring. In return, former startup staff can enjoy benefits packages and project budgets that startups can’t always compete with.

Going it alone can be an enticing next step too. Many ex-Googlers and ex-Facebookers have left their roles to make their own mark in the tech industry, but it takes a lot more than just having a great idea. As someone who’s already experienced the late nights and lack of budget, an ex-startup team member is under no illusions. Their enthusiasm is matched with some necessary realism.

Moving from startup to startup

The London startup community isn’t tiny, but names get around regardless. If you make an impact, you’ll have an impressive bank of word-of-mouth recommendations and might never have to apply for a job again.

Startups mix with each other regularly using accelerators and incubators, and events like Blockchain Week, Women of Silicon Roundabout, and AI Expo attract potential collaborators, employers and partnerships.

If you impress a founder and become integral to the growth of their startup, they’re sure to have a lot of friends in the tech community who’ll hear all about it and potentially want to collaborate. You might choose to be loyal to the founder who took you on straight out of uni, continuing to learn from those around you, enjoying an environment where everyone has just as much drive. When you do want a change though, or start to create your own world-changing online platform, you’ll be part of a community that can help you make it happen.

Could your startup journey compare to some of the greats? Here are four inspirational startup founders you might not have heard of, and how they got started.

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