The ONE question to ask before joining a startup
I love startups. I love people starting them. I love people who join them.
Through many years of recruiting and hiring talent, I’ve come to realize recently that some people are just doing it wrong. Smart people are joining startups stupidly. But there is one question you can ask yourself to prevent you from falling into the startup trap.
Here’s the scenario. You are a talented, young individual who gets connected to an exciting opportunity at a nearby startup. You’ll have responsibilities well beyond your years of experience, and in fact you might be the most senior person with your skill set at the company. The company seems to be flush with cash, and the new gig is throwing some pay at you that is well above market. Slam dunk, right?
Not so fast.
On the surface this seems great. More money when student loans might still be nagging at you, or you’re trying to build your savings. A once in a lifetime opportunity to fast-track your burgeoning career. And in some cases, this is going to be absolutely true. But many times it is not, and it seems like some really smart people don’t think this through before making the leap.
Once you join this startup you will immediately end up on one of the following two tracks:
The route of compounding intelligence espoused by Stephen Cohen.
The route of the Peter Principle where you have just promoted yourself to, or perhaps far beyond, your level of incompetency.
If you are young, this is when the stakes are highest on both accords. You have the most to gain in compounding intelligence and the benefits to yourself these will yield in your future, but you also have the most to lose if you and the startup are not prepared to – or yet capable of – failing a lot and learning rapidly from this.
Which direction you go far outweighs the extra tens of thousands of dollars that you might have gotten tempted with to join the startup. Equally, the equity in the company that might have lured you will probably translate into something very valuable, or not, entirely dependent upon which route you are set to go down.
Thus I think the most important single question to ask yourself before joining a startup, is the following:
Am I going to learn more at this startup opportunity, or doing what I am currently doing?
If the answer is a resounding Yes, then you absolutely should take the plunge. If the answer is either No or Unsure, then to avert a costly career mis-step you absolutely owe it to yourself to do more to understand the company, its people, and it’s potential, but most important of all, yourself.