The Real Skinny: What It’s Really Like to Work At a Startup

startupYou can’t open a book or flip on the TV without coming face-to-face with startup workplaces these days. For the techies among us, the tidal wave of startups poses a mysterious allure. We know that in real life, they can’t possibly be as non-traditional, amusing, back-breaking, and downright absurd as they appear in the media.

Or can they?

First thing’s first — let’s get clear on what a startup is, anyway. When we think of the term, certain images come to mind, like small teams, lack of corporate hierarchies, and usually a pretty unique culture, too. TechCrunch uses the “50, 100, 500 Rule” to define startups in a more quantifiable way. If your company has less than a $50 million revenue run rate, fewer than 100 employees, and is worth less than $500 million, you’re probably working at a startup. In looser terms, as Wikipedia puts it, startups are newly created companies still in the research and development phase, looking to scale their business model.

Now that we know what a startup actually is, let’s look at what it’s like to work in one.

You’ll Make a Difference

When you’re working with fewer than 100 people, you have a major opportunity to shine in your work. Startups don’t have time for traditional business structures, or sometimes even job descriptions, so there’s no red tape preventing you from bringing your “A game” to work every day and getting your ideas out there.

There’s Nowhere to Hide

In contrast to the above, a small company size means there’s zero coasting or hiding away if something goes wrong. With the extra responsibility comes extra opportunities, but it can also mean dealing with more than your fair share of challenges.

You’ll Work More

Think you work a lot now? Think again. Startup employees have a strong tendency to work “crazy” hours to bring their collective dream into reality. This is why so many startups offer free meals and other perks — they expect you to be on the clock around the clock. After all, if you don’t do the work and put out fires, who else will?

Get Used to Change

There’s a reason why the term “agile” is used so often, in software development and beyond. In a startup, you need to stay on your toes because everything is a moving target, from your job description to your workflow to your product.

It’s Risky

Ever noticed how excitement and risk are two sides of the same coin? Startup companies aren’t established yet, which means you could be on the job hunt again sooner than you’d expect. However, many people thrive in the energy and excitement of startups, so don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk.

You Won’t Be The Big Fish

Oftentimes startups are created by experts in their field who hire other experts to take on the work they just can’t accomplish alone. The standards are higher and there’s no fluff; if you’re usually everyone’s go-to guy or gal, you might have to take a back seat to your colleagues once in awhile. But in turn, you may get to lead your team in ways you’d never have the opportunity to otherwise.

Working at a startup has a lot of pros and some serious cons, and only you know if an opportunity is right for you and your career. But if you love wearing multiple hats at work and giving your all to projects you believe in, give it some thought. The startup work experience is like none other, and if you don’t walk away with a healthy sum of money, you’ll at least retain your valuable experience.


Stephen Van VreedeAbout Stephen—-

Stephen Van Vreede is not your average IT/technical résumé writer. He provides career strategy and concierge job search solutions for senior (15+ years) (ITtechExec) and up-and-coming (NoddlePlace) (5-15 years) tech and technical operations leaders. Stephen and his team focus on building simplified, targeted, and certain career move campaigns, be it an external search or an internal promotion. He is co-author of UNcommon with career development leader Brian Tracy (out June 11, 2015). Contact Stephen directly at or send him an invite at To see whether Stephen and his team are a good fit for you, take their free (and anonymous) 1-minute compatibility quiz, Is the ITtechExec Approach a Good Match for You? Also, feel free to take his complimentary resume self-assessment quiz, How Certain Can You Be About Your Technical Resume? You might be surprised by what you find out!


2 thoughts on “The Real Skinny: What It’s Really Like to Work At a Startup

  1. Startups can bring pleasure and pain. I was part of a couple of start ups during the Dot-Com era and my work week was very long, but knowing that you are doing something cutting edge was a motivator.

    I enjoy start ups….

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Stephen. Like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages, so doing your homework to find out about the stability and culture of the startup is important when making the transition. But like you, many people find they enjoy that atmosphere.

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