16 Startups Worth Risking Your Career For

GitHub office tourGitHub is a good place to be employed.

Photo: Owen Thomas, Business Insider

Joining a startup is always risky, but some companies are better bets than others.If you pick well, you could be financially set for life.

If we could have a pile of stock options in any company right now (besides Business Insider), here’s who we’d pick.


Location: New York

What it is: Media company that produces viral content, led by Jonah Peretti, Ben Smith and Jon Steinberg.

Date founded: 2006

Company size: 180 employees

Financing: $46.3 million from Hearst Ventures, SoftBank Capital, Ken Lerer, John Johnson, RRE Ventures, Founder Collective, Ron Conway, NEA, Michael and Kass Lazerow

Why it's a good bet: BuzzFeed is monetizing its content very well, even on mobile devices, which is important as people consume more on the go. Its ads actually work better on mobile devices than they do on desktops.

Steinberg is creating high engagement placements for advertisers without running a single banner ad, and Peretti has become a world expert in producing viral content.

It's growing quickly with 40 million monthly unique visitors, and investors are so excited about BuzzFeed they think it could become a billion-dollar digital brand. Its current valuation is about $200 million, so there's still an opportunity to join the company and grow with it.


Location: California

What it is: Developer-friendly payment company that makes it easy to accept payments on any website

Date founded: 2010

Company size: 38 employees

Financing: $38 million from Sequoia Capital, General Catalyst Partners, Peter Thiel, Chris Dixon, Elad Gil, Aaron Levie, Redpoint Ventures

Why it's a good bet: Stripe is still small in terms of employees, but it's apparently generating a ton of revenue. It has signed on some well-known clients including 10gen, Pebble, Livestream, Foursquare, Fast Company and Sugar Inc.

(Full disclosure: Business Insider uses Stripe for its subscription research product).


Location: San Francisco, CA

What it is: Social network for programmers so they can collaborate on code

Date founded: 2008

Company size: 143 employees

Financing: $100 million from Andreessen Horowitz

Why it's a good bet: GitHub bootstrapped itself to profitability until the Andreessen round late last year. It's become the go-to enterprise company for developers. A lot of development teams at startups use it to work on company code together and it has nearly 2 million registered users. The company is valued at about $750 million and it's only just getting started.


Location: New York

What it is: Crowdfunding platform

Date founded: 2009

Company size: 10-30 employees

Financing: $10 million from Union Square Ventures, Scott Heiferman, Zach Klein, Caterina Fake, Joshua Stylman, Peter Hershberg, Chris Sacca, Jack Dorsey, Joi Ito, Joshua Schachter, Jared Kushner, Matt Haughey, Chris Kaskie, Chris Dixon, Dan Rosensweig, Craig Shapiro, Thrive Capital, Betaworks.

Why it's a good bet: Kickstarter just had a record year with more than $300 million raised on its site from millions of people for 18,000 new projects. It hasn't taken in too much outside capital and it's still a lean team. As pre-commerce becomes more widely accepted, Kickstarter will only get stronger.


Location: San Francisco, CA

What it is: Photo sharing, saving and discovery site.

Date founded: 2008

Company size: Fewer than 50 employees

Financing: $138 million from Jack Abraham, Michael Birch, Scott Belsky, Shana Fisher, Kevin Hartz, Jeremy Stoppelman, Brian Cohen, Fritz Lanman, Hank Vigil, FirstMark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Max Levchin, Ron Conway, Andreessen Horowitz, Rakuten

Why it's a good bet: With billions of monthly pageviews and so few employees, Pinterest is a company that is driving discovery commerce. It's one of the top referral sites on the web and its users are rabid. As far as startups go, Pinterest is the closest you can come to a sure bet.


Location: San Francisco, CA

What it is: Photo sharing, saving and discovery site.

Date founded: 2011

Company size: 4

Financing: $8 million from Benchmark Capital and Om Malik

Why it's a good bet: Look on any college kid's smart phone and you're likely to see Snapchat installed. Despite how popular the app is becoming, the amount of funding it has raised and its number of employees are small. There's a big opportunity to join now and become a part of a potentially huge mobile company.


Location: Brooklyn, New York

What it is: 3D printing company

Date founded: 2009

Company size: About 100

Financing: $10 million from Foundry Group, Bezos Expeditions, True Ventures, RRE Ventures, Sam Lessin

Why it's a good bet: The promise for 3D printing is huge, and MakerBot is at the forefront. Sure, for now it only produces plastic trinkets. But imagine if you could print out things like door knobs, keys or buttons in the future? MakerBot is working on some extremely forward-thinking projects and it hasn't raised a ton of outside capital. It's definitely a smart place to be employed.

Warby Parker

Location: New York

What it is: Glasses-maker and retailer

Date founded: 2009

Company size: About 100

Financing: $50.3 million from First Round Capital, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures. Tiger Global Management, Menlo Ventures, Thrive Capital, General Catalyst Partners

Why it's a good bet: Luxottica pretty much owns the glasses industry, and Warby Parker is doing a great job of stealing a slice of the pie. It's vertically integrated and it's come a long way in just a few years. Warby is still small enough that if you joined it now, you could make a big impact on the business, and vice versa.


Location: New York

What it is: The maker of MongoDB, a leading NoSQL database

Date founded: 2007

Company size: About 100

Financing: $81 million from Union Square Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, Sequoia Capital, NEA, Intel Capital, Red Hat, In-Q-Tel

Why it's a good bet: 10gen is used by many Fortune 500 companies and its client list keeps growing. It's one of the hottest enterprise startups around, and its CEO Dwight Merriman helped make DoubleClick a big success in the first dotcom boom.

(Full disclosure: Merriman is a co-founder of Business Insider)


Location: New York

What it is: An invention shop. It executes good product ideas from people in its community, makes working prototypes and helps the products get sold in stores nation-wide.

Date founded: 2009

Company size: About 100

Financing: $91.3 million from Arizona Bay Technology Ventures, RRE Ventures, Village Ventures, Contour Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Why it's a good bet: While Kickstarter just helps people with ideas raise money, Quirky actually makes their ideas come to life. And as CEO Ben Kaufman says, 'Everyone has an idea, not everyone is an entrepreneur.' It's a tough margin business, but Quirky is starting to produce a number of popular items and is quickly becoming the new-age, digital version of QVC or Brookstone.

Nasty Gal

Location: Los Angeles

What it is: An online-only vintage clothing company

Date founded: 2006

Company size: About 100

Financing: $49 million from Index Ventures.

Why it's a good bet: Nasty Gal has the potential to become the first digital-only, Forever 21 type brand. It's led by Sophia Amaruso, who bootstrapped the company after launching it on Ebay, and Deborah Benton, who has been called the Sheryl Sandberg of LA.

Update: We incorrectly inserted Quirky's list of backers into Nasty Gal's listing. We've corrected its financing information here.


Location: San Francisco

What it is: mobile payments company

Date founded: 2009

Company size: 200

Financing: $341 million from Khosla Ventures, Greg Yaitanes, Marissa Mayer, Dennis Crowley, KEvin Rose, First Round Capital, Ron Conway, Biz Stone, Joshua Schachter, Shawn Fanning, Zachary Bogue, Andrew Rasiej, David Lee, Esther Dyson, robin Chan, Fritz Lanman, Brian Pokorny, Xavier Niel, Jim Pitkow, Sequoia Capital, Visa, KPCB, Tiger Globla, Richard Branson, Starbucks, CrunchFund, Citi Ventures, Rizvi Traverse Management

Why it's a good bet: You might not get a ton of equity if you join Square now, since it has raised hundreds of millions of dollars and has hundreds of employees. But Square is undoubtedly one of the most promising startups right now. Jack Dorsey, its CEO, co-founded Twitter and it's onboarding small businesses quickly.

Mobile payments are still a long way from being finalised, but Square is a great short-term solution, and we're sure it will keep innovating with the industry.

Bonus: SmartThings, Runkeeper, 3DRobotics, Mailbox

All of these are newer and thus more risky startups to join, but all of them have big believers behind them.

RunKeeper, a mobile fitness app, was called out by Mark Zuckerberg as a promising startup on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt.

SmartThings was a funding round every early stage investor was eager to get their hands on. It was also successfully financed on Kickstarter. SmartThings is trying to make ordinary objects smart by placing sensors on them and notifying their owners when they start malfunctioning via mobile device.

3DRobitcs was founded by the former Wired Editor-in-Chief, Chris Anderson. It's building personal drones.

Mailbox is currently getting a lot of attention from tech blogs and investors. People who are already using the app love it. The app incentivized users to reach Inbox 0 by turning messages into to-dos.

For more great startups to work for, check out:

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