First, allow me to set the stage for why working at a startup is less than ideal…
1. You’re Your Own Boss
This may sound like a blessing, but this has definitely been a learning experience for me. Working in corporations before meant I always had deliverables and expectations, which made completing my responsibilities simple. Working at a startup means that even if you do have a supervisor, your responsibilities go way beyond your job description. You can often be caught doing things that you can deem to be extremely above or below your skill level.
2. Goodbye, 40-Hour Workweek
Want to work on your passion? Then don’t expect to clock in at 9 and be done by 5. Often you dictate your own hours, but because there’s always a million and one things to be done, you’ll never run out of things to do. And if you do, you’re doing something wrong. Be prepared for an 80-hour work week because that is what it takes.
3. This Also Applies to Weekends and Holidays…
Since most of the founding members in the initial stages are likely to be employed, the only time you have to meet, brainstorm and work would be off-hours. This sucks because your friends are all having fun, going places, and you’re stuck in your basement office trying to make it big.
4. Money? What money?
Going from management consulting to startup life is shocking. Gone are the expense accounts and in are the pocket books. Being frugal makes the difference between lasting three months to lasting a year on your savings. I have a friend who by all means seems to be living the start-up dream… living in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment on a mattress.
5. The Grass is (Not Really) Greener
You get to see your friends from business school and university succeed in their corporate jobs, making the big bucks, buying cool things while you’re scrounging for pennies to fund your startup. While they might tell you that you’re living the dream, it most definitely does not feel like it when you have to forgo any and all luxuries because you’re going to run out of money to pay rent.
6. Your Parents are as Stressed as You are About Your Future
This may not apply to every entrepreneur’s parents, but my traditional Asian family highly disapproves of me eschewing a steady paycheque for a desperate desire to do something of my own. You’ll be bombarded with questions as to how you’ll be able to afford rent and food. Then they’ll compare you to their friend’s son/daughter who is a doctor/lawyer/banker who makes way more than you do.
7. Your Relationships are on Pause
I am so fortunate I have an amazing partner who’s interested in business and supports me in more ways than I can even imagine. I talk about all my business ideas and the on-goings of my venture. When I get caught up in a new idea for PIQ, it means that I am zoned out completely and ignoring whatever conversation I’m in to try to figure it out.
8. You’re Prone to Existential Crisis
There are days where you will seriously question all your decisions leading up to this point. Why did you think quitting your job was a good idea? Why did you think you can make it when so many don’t? Bedtimes are often filled with to-do lists and deep philosophical despair about your choices.
That all sounds pretty unappealing, and yet I couldn’t imagine working in any other environment.
Here’s why it’s absolutely worth it:
Whether I was working at a boutique consulting firm or gigantic corporation, I always felt like I wasn’t being utilized effectively. Because each individual has a unique skillset and untapped capabilities, it is often difficult to find a job that gives you the flexibility to learn and grow while still letting you generate value. While I’m not trying to slam on a 9-to-5 job, you’ll always be limited by the chain of command, the restrictive processes, and the fear of creativity.
A startup grants you the opportunity to really test yourself and expand your capabilities. I created this graph (can’t escape the consultant in me) to demonstrate how it feels:
A startup life isn’t for everyone; some people work best under structured expectations and a planned promotion system. However, I can understand why the best and the brightest new graduates are increasingly entrepreneurial and forgoing six-figure jobs to take on a startup position that pays peanuts. At the end of the day, I will look back at my 20s and reminisce fondly about the leap I took and the amount I learned as opposed to the “job security” I had.