The biggest hesitation I hear from people considering joining a startup is the risk the company won’t succeed. This risk is both very real and basically irrelevant. Yes: For most small, unproven companies the product will sell too slowly, the company will struggle to raise more funding, and the role you thought was crucial will morph into something completely different. But no: This doesn’t mean that working at a startup is risky.
Established companies enjoy an odd aura that their employees are secure and their jobs desirable, but it’s simply not true. The median number of years that wage and salaried workers stayed in their job in 2012 was 4.6. For younger workers, it was 3.2. When we think of a job as being “low risk” it’s because we’re substituting the chances of survival of the company with the chances we’ll continue to work there.
The reality is that pre-planned “career tracks” are now much more the exception than the rule. Doctors, lawyers and a few other accredited and highly educated positions aside, people’s jobs are shockingly ephemeral. Most successful people have been fired, “downsized,” or have quit hoping for something more fulfilling.
Once you recognize that this risk is unavoidable you can begin seeking opportunities that truly advance your career. And that’s when working at a startup starts to make sense. A small company needs to move very quickly to succeed. This creates two very rare phenomena for employees: First, they’re exposed to everything that makes the business run (or not), and second, they immediately see the impact of their work on the company’s performance.
Fundamentally, exposure to more stuff at work is the lifeblood of career advancement. It’s how we uncover and conquer new challenges (or fail trying).
Even though Perpetually proved successful, when we built our team, back then and again now at Thinkful, I went out of my way to separate an uncertain corporate future from the certainty that team members could dramatically advance their career. It’s a fact proven again and again. From Perpetually’s designer, Saki, who was thrown into coding a full blown website on her first day, to our current intern, Ani, who began six weeks ago handling inbound email and is now closing deals with large companies.
I believe that career sameness is actually very dangerous. But if you don’t truly want to be challenged to keep learning, you may very well disagree.