Optimize for learning: the perks of joining early on

Common debate and dilemma for those who are eager to make a change in their career is the question of whether to join a startup or a corporation. If the former is preferred, we go further in our evaluation, the question of the stage of the startup is raised. Here the assessment of the options needs to take place, mainly on your financial position, current obligations, and family situation as well as, of course, what your expectation is from your career overall. Wheres, the former part is reserved for a discussion over a family gathering or with your financial advisor, we can double click on the latter. 

Here are 3 core things to add to your evaluation or ongoing debate:

You learn SO much.

Being a small team of 5-15 individuals allows everyone to be involved in the decision-making process and, without any delays, come to conclusions on what the next steps are. Unlike the hierarchical flow of the larger organizations, each of you is likely to own the whole function – be it engineering, product, analytics. This opens a door to a brilliant experience of building your own team from scratch and learning to attract people when yet no solid branding is present. In these settings product development also becomes smooth and (relatively) easy – the essential feedback and research from the market are discussed right away which enables you to prioritize features that matter and ship them faster.

Being thrown into the pool of the “unknown” situations and acting with clarity and open mind is not for everyone, that’s true, yet if you trust yourself to be resilient to the unknown, joining at pre-seed and seed will be an unforgettable experience. Resourcefulness, quick response, and analytical skills are what you often pick up first early stage.

In the future when you part for a new opportunity, the experience of building 0-1 is an invaluable resource for any team.

Broad, not a narrow spectrum

During the early stages of a startup, a plethora of skills are developed. However, here you may feel that your learning is not specialized. Although this may be the case, I think it’s best to become an expert in all aspects of a startup early on, then specialize in one of those areas at least at the start. In particular, this is the case if you someday want to start your own business – wouldn’t it be better to understand sales, marketing, design, operations, and product before you start building your own team rather than just being an engineer alone? 

Each and every person in a startup leadership team is usually a 10x-er with years of experience in their field or specific industry and/or past exits behind their back. Do not forget that VCs too are looking very closely at the team they are about to invest into and more often than not evaluate the team on the same level as the market opportunity due to the fact that in the absence of historical performance data one needs to entrust the individuals to make it to the success.  The opportunity to experiment and shape the face of the company oftentimes is a golden ticket for you to continue as a founder/co-founder or a C-level exec when moving on.

Financial gain

Though startups do not have the highest base salary, it is more than making up for the initial backdrop when taking into account the flexibility of the role, the type of contract you may be able to select, and, naturally, equity. The potential of the company to take off, if solidly VC backed and properly evaluated by you, is rather good which makes the potential for your financial gain immense. Those entering at an early stage can get a good chunk of the equity in options or warrants to add to their base. Base, by itself, should not be expected at the level of the FAANG offers, yet because startups are more flexible in how they may sign you on, one can get into the financial advantage when working remotely in Europe for example and deducting one’s expenses before the local tax is applied.

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