October 08, 2007

Choosin a Startup to Work for

With the successful marketing of Ajax and the associated Web 2.0 confusion, the profusion of startups is quite understandable. Under these circumstances, it is very much natural that a growing number of enthusiasts wish to work in a startup and make some good quick money (stock options, et al) along with a good learning curve. Choosing a startup to work for is equally important as desciding whether to start a new company or not. Though the experience of working in a startup is quite exhilarating , it should be well understood that it has equally greater impact on the career that one chooses.

I wish to enumerate certain DO's and DONT's while choosing to work in a startup and how to evaluate them and take suitable course of action :

- Decide on your priorities in life ; i.e., whether you are ready to sacrifice (trade-offs) certain 'privileges' for the sake of other benefits. This should be brainstormed well and all the possible outcomes (+ve and -ve) should be well examined. There are lots of options that you may need to consider - few for eg., working long late hours, money, relationships(bf, gf ;) ), travel etc.

- Do a personal SWOT analysis - find out your forte` and weaknesses. W.r.t, the IT Industry , find out the domain that interests you the most and how much experience you have in that domain. Are you well versed with the techinical intricacies and troubleshooting. What is your skill level in the field of interest and what is your skill level in the domain that you are currently working in(it is so often possible that your area-of-interest does not coincide with the area-in-which-you-are-currently-working).

- Identify the Startups that are working in the intended area of interest. Usually word-of-mouth or good social networks helps one in identifying startups and their fundamentals. Also, being a member of the social forums(Yahoo/ Google groups) helps in identifying the startups operating in and around the intended-area-of-work. Blogs often provided a greater insight into these.

- Once you have identified a set of startups that match your critieria(this is done by a simple visit to their website and getting an idea of what the company is into), try to get a contact who is working in that firm. Have a chat with him/her over a cuppa-caffine and understand how they operate and the working conditions.

- If things look fine and you have identified your prospective employer, fix up an interview/meeting with the person who runs the show or the manager in charge. During the course of the interview(either before-during-after) do express your interest to work in the firm for 1-2 days [probably over the weekend, since most of the startups work all days ;) ] so that you get a feeling of the nature of work and also you can exhibit your skills. Mostly this step will be well appreciated and the firm will accept it.

- The 1-2 days that you are going to work in the startup is very-very important and crucial for it decides on the future course of action that you might need to take.
Try to find out the intentions of the show-runners (i.e, whether they want to make some quick bucks by creating a product and selling it or want to sustain in the market - i prefer the latter to the former, as i believe that once the focus shifts to selling the company, innovation takes a backseat and one just works towards getting a larger client base and leaving the product innovation behind).
Try to find the attitude of the 'prospective' co-workers. What is the skill level of these people and whether they really know what they are doing and whether they are competent to do what they are asked to do. How will they match you or you with them. It often helps to work with highly talented people(NOTE : I HAVE NOT MENTIONED THE NUM YEARS OF EXPERIENCE THAT A PERSON POSSESSES) , as they can be a great source of knowledge and learning.
(I personally will not look into the infrastructure facilities and other add-ons as i believe that once the cash inflow is steady , things automatically start looking rosy).

- If all the above satisfy you then its time to talk about money. Discuss the remuneration structure(yada yada , now some of you may tell me that satisfaction is what counts more than money - that's very true , but one also needs to keep himself and his family happy .. hence money is 'more'-equally important :) ). Also consider the fact that market is on the boom and growth rate of the IT industry is pretty exciting.

- Ball is in your court now and play it accordingly.

I have tried to enlist some of the very simple steps that one needs to consider and am sure that many will have more inputs to share. Let me know if this was of any help to you.
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