The 7 things you should consider before working for a startup founder

  • Working for a startup founder is different from working in an established company. Job roles are not as clear, long hours are often expected, and there can be lots of pressure to perform.
  • Before you take a job working with a founder, ask a lot of questions.
  • Business Insider asked four experts about working for startups, and here are their tips to help you decide if this position is right for you.

Founders can be inspiring visionaries, making you believe that their idea, company, or product will change the world.

The power of an inspiring leader can be exciting, and the chance to work on the next huge success is appealing.

But whether the company is large or small, working directly for a founder can have some pitfalls you should consider before taking that job.

Business Insider spoke to four experts in the field for the following list of tips on what you should consider before working for a startup founder.


1. Ask yourself if you feel the excitement

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You need to feel the passion of a founder and be 100% on board. Angel investor David H. Page, a specialist in business development for startups, told Business Insider that anyone thinking of working for a founder should find out about the founder’s purpose, history with startups, successes, failures and, most importantly, whether they can inspire others.

Gather as much information as you can to get a sense of the founder’s vision, their style, and their goals. If you are not in sync with the founder, you may be setting yourself up for frustration and conflict working with this startup.


2. Chemistry counts

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Take into account the chemistry you have with the founder, not just their concept.

“More than in a large organisation, working with a founder is more intense, and you’ll likely spend more time with that person. Do your best to assess a good fit,” said Marya Triandafellos, author of “Career X: Expert Advice on How to Cultivate Your Career.”

If the founder already grates on your nerves as you talk with them, that friction will only amplify in the many hours you would spend on the job working on something extremely important to them.


3. Assess the culture

“The founder sets the rules of engagement, such as how people go about their work, how colleagues interact with each other, and how the company treats its customers,” Lisa Prior, CEO of Prior Consulting and author of “Take Charge of Your View: Career Advice You Won’t Get from Your Boss,” told Business Insider.

Each founder will run things differently, and you need to understand as much as you can about the culture of the startup before you sign on the dotted line.


4. Understand the role and responsibilities

“Define your role,” Triandafellos said. “Otherwise, you might end up doing everything!”

Find out what tasks are involved in the role, and who makes the decisions about what. “Employees – even at senior levels – can sometimes feel both micro-managed and lost at sea,” when working for a founder, Prior said.

Founders may not spend the time needed to sort out roles and responsibilities, but this is information you will need to help their business succeed. Try to solidify as much of this as you can before deciding to come on board.


5. Make sure the financials are in order

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“Be clear about the financial standing of the company,” Triandafellos said. “Do they have funding for a year, a month? Make sure the founder is transparent about finances.” New ventures don’t always succeed, so find out how far into the future this company will likely be around.

You don’t want a surprise two months (or two years) into your new job. If the boss is keeping the financials secret now, he or she will likely continue that pattern.

With the precarious nature of young businesses, you want to have some warning if the company is about to cease operations.


6. Keep the relationship clear

“Between the pressure and long hours, the lines of boss and friend can get blurred between the founder and employee,” serial entrepreneur Judge Graham told Business Insider. Even though you have to get along well with the founder, “always stay professional and remember and respect the business relationship,” Graham said.

Don’t let the intensity of the business relationship lure you to cross the line into personal territory. Chemistry is good, but companies succeed when business is the focus.


7. Expect high pressure

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“Founders of startups will move fast and typically do a lot of multi-tasking, so be able to keep up the pace and do more than one thing at once,” Graham said. Financial pressures at startups can also be intense. “Whether it’s their own money they have invested or investors’ money, needing to generate revenue and soon is a priority,” Graham said.

Working for a founder can be trickier than working at a big company, but the rewards of success are potentially much larger. If you are up for the adventure, do your homework before you decide to go all in on this position.

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