Want to Work at a Startup? Read This First
Dean Ku, M.A. '09
Before becoming a career coach, I worked at a startup for almost seven years. My wife jokes that I’m one for one and got incredibly lucky, as the one startup I picked was ultimately a great experience with a good outcome. She’s been involved with multiple startups over the past 10 years as an executive, advisor, or investor and has experienced the full range of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We regularly debate the merits of the newest startups and what makes for a successful mix of product, market, people, and momentum. Without question, there is an element of luck when choosing a startup to work for. At the same time, I have identified a list of five indispensable online resources when evaluating startup opportunities.
This is one of the best websites for anyone thinking about joining a startup. It compiles an annual list of the most promising startups with a “breakout trajectory.” Additionally, it curates a repository of excellent advice from the top thought leaders in the tech industry, which includes topics like deciding which company to join; how to apply, interview, negotiate, compare offers; what to do after getting hired; and how to get the most out of working at a startup.
A great resource for both the quality and breadth of crowdsourced information related to startups. It’s indispensable for those seeking both general or very specific information. It’s a question-and-answer site “where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users.” A few examples of great questions include: How much equity should I ask for from an early stage startup in lieu of a normal salary? or What should startup employees know regarding the 83(b) election form for stock options?
An excellent place to research basic information about a specific startup (or its competitors) including funding status, VCs involved, and founders. You’ll want to be able to assess the strength of the founding team, the dollar size and stage of their funding, and the reputation of the venture capitalists supporting the startup. It’s a good way to get a first look at the credentials of a startup and how seriously you should take them.
Finding the right startup includes getting a clear view of the competitive landscape and market opportunity. Be sure to research specific tech categories and stay up to date with market trends. For example, here’s an overview of 80+ cybersecurity companies using artificial intelligence to secure the future. Some of the content requires a paid account, but you can get a lot of the information including a newsletter when you sign up for a free account.
The final component of your research should include personal contacts that you know and trust within your network that can vouch for the technology, company, founders, or can make an introduction to someone with this insight. Be sure to corroborate the feedback that you are getting with a second source.
In addition to using these resources, you also need to know yourself well and be clear about your objectives to ensure that you are picking the best possible fit. And, of course, you’ll need a little good fortune. Good luck!