Is Working at a Startup a Waste of Time for Future Founders?
On July 8, New York-based programmer and game designer Michael O. Church dropped a 6,200-word bomb on the worldwide community of entrepreneurs entitled "Don't waste your time in crappy startup jobs."
The post has received more than 100,000 page views and a plethora of online rebuttals. It's also been shared by prominent entrepreneurs such as Sean Gourley of the San Francisco startup Quid, among others.
Church's fundamental message is that startups are a route to nowhere. "Rather than an awkward growth phase for an emerging, risky business, 'startup' became a lifestyle," writes Church. And despite the view that this lifestyle is "sexy," most young start-up employees are doing a disservice to themselves by joining -- as the possibility for making loads of money, landing top-level roles or even starting up on one's own is limited, he says.
To find out whether his view resonates, we asked those in the trenches about their experiences. The results of our informal poll were overwhelmingly positive. In addition to well-known perks such as the chance to network with investors, we've distilled three key benefits of start-up experience that explain why it just might pay to work at someone else's before starting your own:
Startups can take a chance on talent.
When Auston Bunsen, co-founder of Munchables, an online restaurant-ordering platform in Sunrise, Fla., got his first job as a developer at a nearby startup-software company, he hadn't attended a single college course. Now 25, he still doesn't have a college degree, but after working at four startups and as an independent consultant, Bunsen says he felt ready to go it alone.
Getting that first job was key, says Bunsen. He credits a combination of luck, the small scope of the position, a hiring manager who was willing to take a chance on his ability and the fact that he was cheap. "The price of hiring me was literally half the price of hiring someone well-qualified," he says.
Startups allow you to wear different hats -- simultaneously.
Before founding Bloom Communications, a marketing and public-relations consultancy in Austin, Texas, Brianna McKinney learned the ropes at startups Seilevel and Powered (now Dachis Group). She was hired at Seilevel to be the office manager, but within a matter of weeks found herself also serving as the recruiter, human-resources manager and marketing manager.
"I have never been the type of person who can perform one specific job function and not want to do anything else," McKinney says. "When working with startups, everything you do matters and everything has a direct and visible impact on the company."
This multi-role background gave McKinney, now 30, a diverse set of skills that she says allows her to "bridge the gap between marketing and public relations disciplines."
Bunsen had a similar experience. As a programmer at West Palm Beach, Fla.'s RushMyPassport.com, he was charged with administering a $200,000 advertising budget. Then, as a developer for LeadLog in Boca Raton, Fla., he pitched in on the company's publicity efforts. His foray into the art of self-promotion has since helped him as an independent consultant and a co-founder. "When you work at a startup, and it's an early stage, you have the opportunity to get your feet wet in many different things," he says.
Startups help you build intangible skills.
The collegiate feel among the staff of Gumroad, an early-stage digital content distribution platform, is one of the things 25-year-old Adam Besvinick first noticed when he flew out to San Francisco in early June to join the team.
"Everything is magnified when it's a very small group," says Besvinick who came on as the startup's head of business development. "There's a camaraderie and cohesiveness that forms very quickly among team members when it's six people sitting around a kitchen table that you can't really get when you're sitting by yourself in a cubicle."
This closeness makes it essential for every staffer to learn how to communicate and deal with people of differing personalities -- along with the highs and lows of the start-up lifestyle, adds Besvinick.
Still, working for a startup isn't for everyone, as Church's post details. McKinney similarly acknowledges some of the downsides -- constantly shifting job descriptions and the lack of raises -- but says she "can't imagine trying to start a company without that background, and the confidence, the knowledge and experience [it] gave me."
How might working for a startup help or hinder your own startup aspirations?Leave a comment and let us know.
Brian Patrick Eha is a freelance journalist and former assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com. He is writing a book about the global phenomenon of Bitcoin for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be published in 2015.