While corporate jobs have a guaranteed salary and sense of stability, they often lack the appetite for innovation and fast-paced environment that drives startups. So to decide if a startup is even right for you, you’ll need to determine what motivates you.
Is it money, stability, technology, innovation? What are your goals in life? Where do you want to focus your energy, skills, and passion? What are your beliefs and values?
If you want the challenge of building something from the ground up, while being driven despite the uncertainty of success, then a startup setting could be the right choice for you.
After arriving at that decision, how do you pick the right startup? Below are a few pointers that I’ve considered throughout my career with startups and I hope that you too will find them valuable.
Be Passionate, Whatever You Do
Passion is everything in the startup community and it’s important that you’re passionate about the technology of whichever startup you join. When you are an ambitious young person, all you have is yourself. And there are only 24 hours in a day. So there is limited energy.
If you want a healthy balance in your life, there’s only so much you can give. Startups will suck your time and you’ll make mistakes along the way, but you should ask yourself this – Am I surrounding myself with people who have similar goals and are driven to succeed? If you believe that a company is trying to do the right thing, then you will find passion and success in what you pursue there as well.
We are shaped by our experiences throughout our lives. It is important to keep an open, honest outlook while continuing to strive for greatness. One of the most important things I’ve learned during my career is to embrace serendipitous moments and use seemingly random events to capitalize on future opportunities.
If you pursue something with a true heart, a fiery passion, and surround yourself with good people, serendipitous events just happen along the way. Back when I was in school, my father would send me newspaper clippings of people like Bill Gates, N. R. Narayana Murthy, Sabeer Bhatia, Vinod Khosla, etc. — some of whom I ended up meeting in real life unplanned.
Furthermore, if you see an opportunity – take it. When you network, people in the community will open many doors for you and you need to take advantage of this. During your life’s journey, you will meet people who can help you find your light. Treat these people as mentors. If you don’t have prior experience, that’s okay, but you have to be ready to grow and make mistakes. You have to be comfortable with knowing you’re not going to do everything perfectly in a very fast-paced environment.
Think Like an Investor
Most investors are money driven and they care about revenue and multiples. You should also vet your opportunities like an investor. After all, you have made an investment in yourself. What is going to drive your “revenue?”
Investors also make bets across a wide variety of companies, knowing some of them will fail, but the great ones will succeed and make their bets worthwhile. When you decide to contribute your skill set to a purpose – do you believe that the overall sum is greater than the separate parts? And even if some of those parts don’t come to fruition as your company continues to innovate, pivot and evolve, do you still believe in the overall mission and does that make your work worthwhile?
Act Like a General on the Battlefield
Once you’ve made your decision about which startup to work for, you then have to understand what you’re walking into because you’ll realize that in a certain chaotic way, every startup is like a warzone. Every startup defies odds on a daily basis by fighting and winning against countless forces. You have to keep an eye on your competitors – ones you are familiar with and ones you may not know of yet who are trying to overtake you. How do you strategically position yourself in the immediate moment, and for the short and long term?
At the end of the day, you have to find alignment with the opportunity presented and with the people at a startup. You have to focus on something you love, because you will spend a lot of time there. Are you willing to give years of your life to the company you are considering? You have to find something you can grow into and can constantly contribute to as the startup evolves.
Then you have to bring the intellectual discipline of an investor, and the operational one of a general. And then, if you’ve prepared well and you’re a little bit lucky (which comes with the preparation), you too will know what it’s like to be a part of something brand new and that becomes increasingly valuable, both financially and more importantly, as a life experience.
Remember that fortune favors the brave. So, are you startup capital?
Previously on GeekWire by Shalendra Chhabra: Demystifying startup marketing: A few tips on how to tell your story
Shalendra Chhabra is director of marketing at Seattle startup Indix. Prior to that role, he held senior product management and marketing positions at Clipboard (acquired by Salesforce), Swype (acquired by Nuance) and Microsoft. He was a top finalist at Microsoft Loaned Executive Program 2010 and George Zachary’s/Charles River Ventures hunt for the VC apprentice at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2012. His Erdos number is 3, and his hobbies include traveling, independent film making, dancing, skydiving and martial arts. He is on LinkedIn here and Twitter here.