Perhaps you’ve heard: I quit Amex and now work with tech start-ups. You know what else I do? I am a sought after, unqualified, and unpaid(!) counselor to other people who want to quit their big corporate jobs to work at a tech start up. So sought after, it’s time to make this advice scalable. Here goes:
Start-ups are not for the faint of heart, intolerant of dirty work or needy of structure. But they sure are a lot of fun.
Know WHY you want to quit
Is it just your current job/boss/company that’s bringing you down? Would going to another big company make things better? If you’re at Amex, can you go to Chase and make [a lot] more money and have a bigger title and be happy as a clam? Or does that make you want to saw at your wrists with a plastic knife? Do you want to build something and don’t really give a shit about your title and not mind taking out your own garbage? Start up life may be for you!
Start up job seeker, know thy self
Was the last time you got your hands dirty when you paid your dog walker to scoop your dog’s poop? Oh, wait, that wasn’t your hand, was it? If you’re several years into your career and used to managing instead of doing, think about what you’re ready to actually DO. Like if you’re a marketing VP, do you want to run a Google AdWords Campaign? Me neither. Are you someone who’s used to doing tons of research and getting buy in from several parties before you make a move? Start-ups don’t care about your stinking research, just get some shit done already. If you’re an investment banker a year in, you’re working hard, but the gravy train (and late night car service) stops at the door of your start up.
Your Risk Tolerance/Financial Needs
A lot of people tell me that I’m brave and inspiring. Puh-lease. What I am is POOR because I quit my job without another one lined up. I do not recommend this. What I am also is married to someone with a decent salary and health benefits that I can mooch off of. And I saved some money before I quit. I recommend both of these things. What I’m saying is: a lot of start-ups live by the “hire slowly, fire quickly” mantra, or you may hate them, or the thing may just blow up. Do your research. Make sure the start up is funded by quality VCs, which means they’re more likely to pay you and stay in business for a long time and operate with some modicum of professionalism. Check their references. And have a back up plan. And as I always tell people: if you’ve been in a job for several years and then spend less than a year at a particular start up because - let’s face it - you just aren’t that into each other, no one is going to think you’re a crazy job hopper.
Bottom line: I left my corporate job to work with start-ups a year ago this week. People who’ve known me for a long time will tell you I look five years younger, five pounds lighter (actually it’s eight, thanks 4HB) and just seem generally happier. Because I am. I have found my [fellow crazy] people. I like building things. I love technology and when inefficient systems are disrupted. I haven’t worn slacks – slacks! – in a year! I like getting shit done instead of having meetings and making ppt slides. And if after reading this post none of your enthusiasm has been dampened, maybe it’s time for you to take the plunge. Come on, the start up community is waiting!