From my project Don’t get a job, get to work

What to know before joining a startup

Your stock options are unlikely to make you rich, so make sure you enjoy the work enough to make it through the tough times. • 18 March 2013

If you are considering an offer from a startup, I strongly recommend two articles: Negotiating Your Startup Job Offer by Robby Grossman and The worst time to join a startup is right after it gets initial VC financing by Chris Dixon.

Robby’s post is a thorough look at the mistakes and gotchas found in many startup job offers. I want to highlight two points:

If Robby’s post is about evaluating the specifics of an offer, Chris’ post provides a general framework for evaluating offers and opportunities.

The most important point can be found in the title: The worst time to join a startup is right after it gets initial VC financing.

Depending on your willingness to accept risk, there are two (much different) periods when joining a startup is best:

Implicit in these two articles is another piece of useful advice: Beware of joining a startup in the “trough of sorrow”.

Being a member of a stagnant or floundering startup can be extremely difficult, professionally and personally. During hiring, it’s natural that a company may paint a positive picture of their situation despite the stagnation. Beware. Ask to see revenue numbers and other key metrics. Talk to investors, current employees, previous employees, and third-party observers. For a company in this position, the most important question to answer is whether they have a strong enough culture to make it through.

Just as there are differences between startups and other kinds of companies, not all startups are equal. After you’ve looked at the financial and professional variables, the final question to ask yourself is whether you are passionate enough about the opportunity to make it through the days when you simply have to show up and keep trying.