Joining a startup is one of the best decisions you can make in your professional life. The key is to know what you want to get out of the experience before you start.
The best way to think of your time at a startup is as a college education. You will have more chances to learn than at almost any other company. It’s up to you to choose your major and take advantage of every opportunity.
At most startups, you will have unlimited opportunities to push your skills as far as you can. With ambitious plans and small teams, you can often set the direction of the design, development, support, or marketing of the product. You will have the opportunity to decide which problems to solve and how to solve them.
That’s just one small piece of the startup experience, though. Startups are typically transparent with their employees. Watch and listen carefully and you’ll learn a great deal about what to do and what not to do. You’ll be part of conversations about the future of the company. You’ll meet potential investors and hear many stories about the press, brands, and other startups. You’ll likely have a say in who gets hired next, what your office space should look like, and the design of your t-shirts.
Don’t miss these by narrowly focusing on your core skill set. If you want to do one thing and do it well, and have little interest in the other pieces of the puzzle, you’re probably better off at a larger company.
Startups are also incredibly fluid. The product might change from a Facebook app to an iOS game to an API. Quick growth might introduce scaling problems that can’t wait for a systems engineer to be hired. Support requests might be piling up, along with blog posts and newsletters that need to be written. These changes are incredible opportunities to greatly expand your skills and experience. When you embrace them, you will become better at what you do, and possibly discover a new path for your career.
The knowledge you gain through this experience and the people you share it with will make you much more valuable to future companies, especially other startups. You may also have the chance to build on your education to start your own company.
On top of all of this, what other education pays you an annual salary?
If you join a startup for a lottery ticket, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re looking for an education, you’ll get that and much more.