What is it like to work at a startup?

What is it like to work at a startup?


Startups are not like the movies. Life in the startup world can be brutal. It forces you to abandon everything that is known and comfortable – you are constantly on the edge.

Nothing is yours (at least not yet). Expect and plan for that feeling and you will achieve success.

At the same time, it requires your full dedication and the willpower to fight in order to reach your set destination.

However, the biggest advantage of working in a startup is the pace of learning, and it is impossibly fast.

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Polish investor, Marcin Szeląg expressed it well:

In order to have chances in startup world, you need to be absolutely the best. Startups do not forgive weakness. […] The bar has been raised very high. The best startups fight for the best investors and the best employees. At such a high level there is no place for errors. The weak lose very quickly.


The same is said of sport – you are a winner only when you give it all. Only then do you get satisfaction, because you have done everything in your might in order to achieve your goal.

When you run a startup, every single day is different. The necessity to create an effective business model forces founders to constantly iterate. Without elasticity and openness to change you will quickly be defeated. You need to love it.

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Working in a startup is fun and liberating.  

BUT ONLY IF you are excited or passionate about what the startup does or the domain in which the startup operates.

There will be a whole load of challenges, hurdles, lack of resources, delayed salaries, work overload and so on. And it can be extremely frustrating.

However, beyond all that frustration, the feeling of ‘moving something forward’ is very, very satisfying.

Working in a startup can be a humbling experience, especially if you were a rockstar professional in a large company before the startup.

You will realise, and very quickly, that past relationships from your big-company job would not behave the same with you as they were when they needed your business. And the quicker you learn to live with that changed reality, the better it will be for you.

Despite the challenges and frustrations, the excitement, the energy and the satisfaction that you can get in a startup is something else.

Even if the startup fails, most people feel that they have learnt a lot in life through that experience.

Working in a startup, because of smaller teams who multi-task due to necessity, often teaches you about business in general. It is a holistic learning experience about the dynamics of business. And that sets you up nicely to become an entrepreneur yourself.

One would often hear successful professional tell entrepreneurs “I wish I had the guts to be an entrepreneur like you”. How many entrepreneurs have you heard say to a successful professional “I wish I had your job”.

In order to achieve success you need a love for quick tempo, the ability to motivate yourself, and empathy. The rest is a matter of endurance and consequent work and development of ourselves.

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Startups are full of uncertainty.

They often start with a vague idea. No one knows where it will lead. No one knows if it will work. Finding the right people is hard. Trusting these people is hard. We have an amazing team but it took me time to understand their very different personalities.

At startups you often have people that don’t want or don’t can work at traditional companies. They may get the work of a month done in three days without much sleep but then be unavailable for some weeks.

You don’t know where you are heading at. You have a plan but at the same time know that it won’t work like that. You still try. Some people are convinced of an idea from the beginning, others need time. It is a hard job to balance everything without becoming crazy.

The founders will most likely be stretched in all directions, managing customers, product, tech and fundraise all at the same time. If you happen to be in the middle of a fundraise, the founders will be promising specific targets to potential investors so the deadlines you will have for pretty much anything will be super aggresive.


Often, people get slotted into roles they weren’t hired for – a tech guy getting into customer advisory/sales for example.

If you are a glass half full person, this is an excellent opportunity for you to step up, experience things you won’t in a larger company and be a part of something that will grow from a tiny infant to a responsible adult one day.


Positive feedback from customers is important to validate your idea.

But in my opinion it is way more important how positive feedback motivates you.

Doing a startup is often like walking into a pitch dark room you have never been and trying to find something. It helps when there is someone telling you hot or cold.

If there would be nobody it would creep you out and most people would leave after a short time.

At a startup there is no one who tells you what to do. You have to find your own place. There is no saying that you are not responsible.

Everyone is responsible for everything. You have to help each other and ask others when you can’t figure out something on your own early on. If you core competence is not programming it may be hard to find your place in the beginning.

I used the time to grow into my responsibilities and learn as much as possible. Startups have episodes of blankness. You don’t know if you are moving forward, backward, sidewards, in different dimension or not at all.

Taking a stroll from time to time and meeting people outside of your bubble often helps. For me was writing another good option.

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Talking with users is awesome.

If you don’t have a social media sharing thingy startup that is easy to use for everyone getting good feedback can be a challenge. Mastering it gives a great feeling and you should do direct user tests no matter what your startup is about. There is information in them you can’t get otherwise. Love the user.


Following are my reasons why one should prefer startups over corporate jobs :

  1. You will get lots of responsibilities.
  2. You will earn a lot while working with innovators, this will indirectly inject entrepreneur skills.
  3. You will be recognized because of your work.
  4. Many of the people working with you in the startup have same or more excitement and dedication.
  5. You’ll be impressed with the value of hard work, ownership, and self-sustainability.

Startups are exciting because progress tends to happen quickly and feels very tangible (if we build this, we’ll attract these new users.

If we convince the board that we need this, we’ll be able to build that). Also, strategy & vision can change quickly, too, so one day you could be working toward something you find interesting and the next month you’re working toward something even better.

Working at a startup is supportive because the company, in many ways, depends on the health and happiness of the team.

While it behooves any organization to make the effort to support their employees, I think startups must work harder to do so because losing an employee from a small team is more painful than losing one from a big team.

As a result, startup employees (or me, at least) feel that they can go to work, do their job, have a life outside of work, and be supported by their team and company however they choose to do so.

Working at a startup in casual in terms of everything from the way people speak in the office to the clothes we wear. There is no artificial needs for “seriousness” and people tend to relax into the environment.

Working at a startup is fun because there are often team events, enjoyable conversations between teammates, and a general desire to be successful at what you’re doing.

One big difference between corporate companies and startups is you are responsible for your own actions. Since there is no hierarchy you are the boss of your decisions. You cannot shift the blame to someone and wash off your hands.

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It’s true when they say startups aren’t meant for everyone.

I worked at a startup previously and I am now too. One thing for sure is, it’s difficult or should I say challenging?

But that’s what makes it a startup. It’s supposed to be challenging. I want to work at a startup because I want to grow, experience and also developed skills and eventually contribute a lot. Oh, don’t worry about never being able to showcase your work or having ‘nothing to do’ because that’s not happening at a startup.

I believe to really know what’s it like working at a startup you need to put yourself in there. Everyone experiences’ may differ but generally every day is hectic and filled with exciting opportunities. You just don’t see it coming.

Even when things may seem tough, your team and you will work it out together, always.

Tip: If you’re passionate, have an attention to details, motivated, have a strong sense of initiative and love to be a part of something new and turn it into something BIG, you know you’re startup material.


Difference between working at a big company and at a startup

In a startup, you are always starving.  You are always making crucial decisions about what to spend your time and money on.  You are always cutting corners and telling yourself you will go back and make it better when you have more time.

At a startup, if it fails, you will always be asking yourself, for a long time afterwards, couldn’t I have done more?  Shouldn’t I have handled things differently.

At a startup, everyone needs to be partly responsible for everything.  You can’t say, “That’s going to break, but it’s not my problem.”

At a big company, you can’t really get away with all those hacks you had at the startup.  If you are unlucky, you might be someplace where the suits run things instead of the engineers, and that can be demoralizing.

At a big company, you should be doing all those things that make a startup work, but the consequences are not nearly as dire.

At a big company, you have more security in your future, in terms of knowing you will be able to buy food and pay rent and not get bankrupted by a visit to the hospital.  And you have resources to do the job you have to do.

At a big company, you are not as agile.  Things are planned out and agreed upon and slowly executed.  That sounds bad, but it’s actually a luxury you will wish you had when you are at a startup.

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The Main Differentiating Factor – Management Structure

At start-ups, there’s generally a flat management structure and very strong bias to favoring high performers. If you want to come in and kick ass, there will be plenty to do and chances are people will notice very quickly.

Big companies tend to have the opposite problem. They have large developed departments in all the major and necessary categories (sales, marketing, business development, etc.).

Each position has a very clear and defined role and responsibilities and more often than not, other departments and positions get very territorial about people working on projects outside of their job responsibilities.

Since every position has to be very clearly defined, this often results in positions whose work can be done in much less time than the standard 40 hour week resulting in large positional inefficiencies.

All this means, working at a big company, you tend to have a more defined role; less work, stress and expectation to work long hours; more bureaucratically oriented more challenges with promotions and career growth; and all this often times results in more company politics to deal with.

The experience can be frustrating for many who crave a fast paced, challenging, growth environment.

People rarely find those feature at big companies. But there’s lot of job security, good benefits, lowered expectations for working long hours and a slower paced work environment that many people can appreciate.


Summary of Points

1) Ownership of job, which means don’t expect any assistance in day to day work. ( Example. If you have to take a print copy, you may also have to go out and buy paper/ink whenever needed)

2) You are expected to the best at your work. Which means get the job done.

3)You will be able to see how things get screw’d-up and how with lot of patience co-founders bounce back to track.

4) You will feel disconnected from routine corporate job scenario and you will feel lost in a world where most of rules are made and customized as per your startup culture.

5) You will develop attitude of being independent and getting a job in companies will be cake walk after your startup experience. ( If you were good at your stuff)

6) No Dress Code ( few do follow), No judgement’ s on your attire ( As Steve Jobs was also accused of being Untidy), No Moral  Values( You are Judged by the way you do Business)


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