Why Working for a Startup Requires the Right Mindset

February 22, 2015

4:00 pm

No one ever said working for a startup would be easy. Most everyone in the business world has heard the statistics about the failure rate of startups. Even so, it hasn’t stopped so many of us from pursuing our dream of starting a business or jumping on board with a new company determined to make a difference.

If you are pondering joining a startup, or perhaps you are currently employed by one and contemplating jumping ship, you’ve got to have the right mindset. Consider reframing your thinking by making these four adjustments that are needed to survive and thrive in a startup environment.


Be willing to work…a lot!

This concept isn’t new, but what many people don’t realize is that you will be required to wear many different hats. Most startups run lean. Chances are you will be asked to stretch yourself and your skillset into uncharted territory. And here’s the catch: most of the time with very little direction or training.

This, as it turns out, is also one of the perks of working for a startup. You will likely be working alongside the founders at ground zero and will have an opportunity make a big impact. Keep in mind, when working in a lean environment, you will need to be resourceful and persistent to find solutions – even when the industry at large is telling you it’s not possible. Being challenged, knocked down, and getting back up (rinse and repeat) is all part of the equation.

Do it because you believe in it

As the fabled saying goes, “start with why.” Many people start businesses for the wrong reasons—to discover their pot of gold or to become the leader in their industry. Sure, either of those two scenarios can happen, but 90 percent of the time it doesn’t.

Some of today’s most successful startups set out to solve a problem and make a difference. If you join a startup simply based on the allure of being a part of “the next Facebook” and retiring by 35, you will likely become frustrated and burn out before the company succeeds. However, if you are joining because you want to make an impact, believe in the vision, and you are willing to put in the hard work and staunch dedication, you will more than likely thrive. Of course, this is also dependent upon whether you are in an environment where you are given the opportunity to succeed and appreciated for your tenacity.

Achieve balance knowing that there is none

It’s a given that working nine-to-five isn’t a reality at a startup. What many overlook is helping those around you understand as well. You will miss parties, have very few days off and most likely forget a birthday or two. Although your workload is your reality, it’s not for all of your friends and family.

It’s important to communicate expectations with loved ones as well as yourself. Startups are high risk with lots of potential for success, but don’t leave those that care about you behind. If you are not willing to make the sacrifice it doesn’t make you a bad employee, it just means that a startup may not be right for you.

Become a master communicator

If you want to move up the ranks in the company, effective communication is one skill set that will set you apart. As mentioned above, you will likely fill many different roles and need to communicate with a number of different people. Whether it’s a vendor, investor or engineer, you have to know how to speak their language to not only get the results you are seeking, but also understand what their needs are. If your teammates or business associates know they can communicate a problem or concern to you to get results, you will quickly become a VIP employee.

The ping-pong tournaments and giant slides in the middle of the office the media portrays of the startup world is appealing, but unrealistic. Be prepared for a living room or garage office with furniture pieced together from friends, family, and Craigslist.

For me, it was a three-walled shack in the middle of a field of desert plants where we had to test our biomaterials, perfect our process and scale-up. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world though. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I can achieve in my career by working at a startup and being part of the process. I’ve watched people come and go, some of whom I hired and trained myself. They either learned the environment wasn’t for them or simply couldn’t adapt to working on a startup team. If, however, you take into account the above DNA of what it takes to survive (and thrive), you will make the right choice for your future.

What have you learned about working for a startup?


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Ray is the Senior Manager of Engineering, Technology Development for Yulex Corporation where he plays a key role in the development of a variety of processes. Ray began his career in technology development by testing and reporting on the Guayule plant in 2002 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) natural rubber laboratory. In 2003, Ray joined Yulex as a Scientist for Process Development, during which time his steady efforts and technical knowledge resulted in a U.S. patent for the Yulex latex extraction process.