by Monica Goyal
My first job was with a bank, and I remember being let go because I was too efficient. I had worked myself out of a job, by finishing all the work assigned to me in half the time they thought it should take.
In a startup, you never hear that you are working too fast, if anything you always feel overwhelmed and overworked, and it’s just the way I like it!
Through my experience as a startup owner, and someone who has worked with a lot of other startup owners, I’ve met several people along the way who, quite frankly, don’t belong at a startup. As someone who always assumes the best in people, I always assume these people know themselves well enough to know what they are getting into, and rarely is that the case. More often than not, people are drawn to the allure of being an entrepreneur and ignore the long, hard road that lies ahead of them.
Furthermore, in my working career, I found that not everyone is cut out for startup life. They may like working in a predictable job with a predictable income stream; or they may just want to do a specific set of tasks, something they won’t likely find in a startup; or they just enjoy the big company culture and politics.
Here are some characteristics of some startup entrepreneurs. If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to any of them, you may want to reconsider that startup job.
- You want to have a life. If you want to have lots of friends, and go out regularly, or you participate in a lot of extracurricular activities, a startup is not the place for you, unless you are a community manager.
- You get frustrated when confronted with something new. In a startup you will not be babied, you may be thrown something you think you are not qualified to do, and you must be able to adapt quickly.
- You aren’t a problem solver. You can have many degrees and still not be a problem solver. Schools rarely teach students how to tackle something totally new, and find a solution to it. Problem solving is a skill that must be developed; it cannot be taught.
- You aren’t very creative. If you are not a creative person then you really should not consider a startup. This = goes with point #3 above. You are given problems to solve. Don’t rely on someone else, you got to figure it out on your own, and you will need to find creative (read: effective and inexpensive) solutions to these problems.
- You don’t like risks. Startups are risky ventures that can suffer cash flow issues and collapse at any moment.
- You rely on other people to get your work done and to get ahead. If you aren’t a doer, don’t work in a startup. Startups aren’t big enough to mask unproductive people. I don’t know how many times in my working career I’ve seen someone boast to the rest of the world, “I was here until 2am”. I’m not sure how that ploy works, but somehow, in some large corporations, these people may be seen as dedicated and hardworking, and thus advance because of this perception. I think they’re just really good at marketing themselves. In a startup, it becomes very clear very quickly how productive someone really is, and how much value they produce. You can’t ‘fake it’ at a startup.
My aim is not to discourage anyone from joining a startup. You need to be realistic about who you are and what you are willing to sacrifice to be successful. A startup is not a very forgiving enterprise; but it can be extremely rewarding.
Monica Goyal is a Toronto-based lawyer and a technology entrepreneur who founded My Legal Briefcase, an online legal service firm focused on small claims court cases.