So you’ve been thinking about leaving your solid corporate career for the limelight of a startup. Maybe you’ve even received a call from a friend or old colleague. Well, before you make the leap, stop and think about it. It’s not a decision to take lightly. Although, in the end, you may ask yourself, “What took so long?”
I had a 30-plus year corporate and consulting career. During that time I led large global teams, learned the values of good project management, was lucky enough to be shown the huge difference between management and leadership and had a steady paycheck and good benefits. But, like many of you, I was eventually pushed to make a decision. I had been affected by a reduction in force and was two months into my severance package. I had started interviewing at some nice-sized companies and some consulting firms at the time, but I will never forget the call that I received on June 6, 2016, about joining CentSai.
Be Prepared To Fail
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and for those in corporate jobs, being a part of a startup sounds exciting. Think of all of the people who made it big just by taking a chance. First, you need to put together a list of things you will buy. There is no question it will be successful, so you will definitely be sitting on a lot of cash. I’m kidding about it being a guaranteed success, but if you do join a startup, you will barely have time to eat one meal a day sitting down, so there is no way that you will have time to make lists.
The sad truth is that most startups fail. I’ve read a lot of articles on it and saw numbers ranging from 75% to 90%. The top-end number is a general rule of thumb. The bottom of the range is backed by research and facts. I don’t doubt the facts, but I do think that they fail to take into account all of the bootstrapped and angel-money efforts that fail and are never known about. Typically, the more established a startup is (i.e., Is it just a concept? Is there a prototype? etc.), the better the chance of success. Regardless, you barely have a 50% chance of making it if you make it past year four.
Can You Afford To Get Rich?
The first real thing that you must think about is if you can afford to do it and for how long. A startup can take years to make it big. In the early days, money is tight and you will be expected to work for not very much. The tradeoff is equity in the company, but that will take some time to reap.
In the corporate world, salary is just a part of the complete compensation package. Medical benefits, matching 401K plans, life insurance, disability insurance, vacation time, training and a host of other small benefits that add up must be taken into account when making your decision. Most large companies can even get you a 20% discount on your cell phone plan. Does the startup you are thinking about joining offer any of these? In addition, many startups pay their team members via 1099 and don’t take out taxes, leaving the onus on you to take care of it.
Are You Mentally Prepared?
In your current job, you have a role that is clearly defined. On a day-to-day basis, you know what you will be doing. You’re surrounded by peers and managers who support and help you. As you’ve grown, you’ve taken on more responsibility and you’ve become a manager. Now you have a team helping you do your work.
It’s not quite the same in a startup. In many cases, on day one your team will consist of…you.
You will be doing it all. As CTO, you will be expected to make sure that the website is up and running and is constantly updated. You will be the one to help PC and Mac users with their issues. You will be expected to change the ink in the printer and to order office supplies. You will be pulled into every possible conversation. Your expertise in product development and project management will be strongly tested. If you are new to the Web world, as I was, you will be learning more than you can possibly imagine. I knew UX/UI design was important, but who knew there was a role called “content designer”? SEO, Google Analytics, Tag Manager, WordPress, site load time, backlinks — the list goes on and on. And if you do know all of this, then you will be asked to take it to the next level and, oh yeah, do it alone or at best with just a small team.
Talk To Those You Trust
The money is OK and you’re prepared to tough it out. Are you sure? You should definitely talk to those you trust — the people who really have your best interest at heart. Don’t just talk to those you know will say yes; find someone who will ask the tough questions. For me, it was my parents. At 55, they still listen and give great advice. My parents spent their entire careers in the NYC school system and were conservative in their work life. As such, they both retired young with nice pension plans. When I graduated college, my Dad’s advice was to get into a good company and work my way up. I took a less direct path.
When I had this discussion with them, after all the questions that they asked about finances, challenges and work-life balance, my mom looked at me and said that she hadn’t seen my face that lit up while talking about work in a very long time. My decision was made. If you’re still on the fence about a startup, the most important question you should ask yourself is, “Who should I talk to?”