Working at a startup: founder, manager or employee?

14 July 2021
Would you like to work in a startup? If you want to choose in which role read our new guide!

Very frequently people idealize the career paths they want to take without really stopping to think about what the roles they're going to play entail. For example, the startup world is definitely a job segment that boasts so much appeal, especially to younger people or those who have just finished school. Want to know a secret? Working in a startup can definitely be intellectually and professionally stimulating but it involves a lot of hard work! The best way to optimise your results it is to understand, in the beginning, what role you want to play before making a career choice in companies of this kind.

Let's analyze three figures and the pros and cons of these roles: founder, manager and employee.

Founder

Pros

  • Working on something you're passionate about
  • Bringing something new to the world
  • High levels of responsibility often inspire extreme productivity
  • Choosing the people to work with
  • Learning new skills at an extremely fast pace

Cons

  • High levels of stress
  • Not immediate maximization of personal gains
  • Financial and skill barriers in the early stages
  • It takes many years to achieve widespread and recognized success, which may never even come
  • It takes a level of commitment that requires great sacrifice, including in terms of personal life and relationships

How to become a startup founder

Here are the basic and indispensable ingredients to be a startup founder:

  1. identify the potential team you want to work with that has the technical skills to help you build your MVP
  2. don't forget the human side in building your team
  3. understand the financial plan: do you have the possibilities or do you have friends and family to support the work on your idea in the next 6-12 months?
  4. be driven by passion in identifying a problem that you and your team would like to solve
  5. have a unique idea on how to solve the problem

Secondly, the location you are in and the presence of an ecosystem that can support your entrepreneurial choiceis important: consider moving to a tech hub or working in a tech company as an employee to grow your network, your skills and most importantly to save the money you need to start with your project. Don't be afraid to take your time to start working on your idea (no exaggeration, the sea of startups is full of fish) so you don't squander your chances of success.

Finally, don't overlook the value of learning by doing. Throwing yourself into the deep end isn't always the best idea, but don't let what you don't know hold you back, either: you'll learn a lot of what you need just by starting to work on it!

Manager

Pros

  • Income and benefits of various kinds
  • Opportunity to gain visibility and prestige
  • More likely to have an impact but with less risk than entrepreneurship
  • Doesn't require building a team and a sum of money to get started

Cons

  • Success can be hindered or prevented by the choices of others in the organization or by mistakes or excessive risks taken by a founder
  • It takes vision and skill to choose a startup that will grow and succeed
  • It takes time to achieve a significant amount of responsibility
  • You need to have an established set of skills, preferably industry-specific ones

How to become a startup manager

Study and identify a startup that is growing rapidly, this way you can get more responsibility soon. Obviously, choosing a company that will grow rapidly for many years is extremely difficult, otherwise anyone would have a stellar career.

The most important thing about working in a startup is that you believe in the project, that you want to espouse its corporate culture and guiding values and not that you are just looking for a personal opportunity. As we said before: always remember the centrality of the human dimension!

You essentially have to think as if you were working for a venture capital firm and choose a company that you deeply believe in and that you think will be one of the best in its field within the next 10 years.

Employee

Pros

  • Stable income and benefits
  • Ability to connect directly with customers through your work
  • More time to devote to your personal life and relationships
  • Working in a startup allows you to have more say in decisions and for your opinion to be heard more

Cons

  • Risk of suffering the consequences of bad management
  • If cuts are necessary due to poor choices by founders and managers, you could be the first to be made redundant
  • Less control and independence over what you are working on

How to become an employee of a startup

Your strategy is similar to that of an executive: try to identify a startup with high potential for rapid growth, in order to open up satisfying and lasting career scenarios. 

Conclusions

Experience and courage are two key characteristics for anyone who wants to found, lead, or work for a startup. ake your time to explore the path that best suits you, both from a human point of view and from the skills point of view, but don't wait too long: the time you spend cultivating and planning your career goals can't be infinite and you'll have to carefully calculate both the economic and time costs in order to follow the path that best suits your expectations!

Good luck!

Author

Luca Coppolella
Head of Content

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