Working for a startup

Many of you reading this post will be considering taking the well-trodden path through grad schemes once you graduate, though many will also be weighing up the possibility of joining a startup. The very word ‘startup’ has become a more prominent feature in our collective lexicon over the past decade, as shown by Google Trends data, which displays search volume over time (as a proxy measure for interest):
Some sources place the number of new companies started worldwide at 100 million each year. So there’s plenty of job openings at companies trying to shake up the status quo, and if you’re lucky enough to find one that’s going places, you can even retire by age 30.
Without further ado, we’ll tell you a little about what it’s like working at a startup, with reference to our company, Funeralbooker, a comparison site for funeral services in the UK.

What even is a startup?

A startup is a young company with a growth plan, designed to scale the business quickly. Some of the world’s largest and most ubiquitous companies were once startups and have now reached a high level of market saturation (Snapchat, Uber and AirBnB come to mind).

Why would I want to join a startup?

There are pros and cons to joining a startup, as with joining an established company. Below we’ve listed some of the most obvious juxtapositions.
Salary: When you join an established company as a graduate, you’ll typically get a fairly large salary. At a startup, the salary will often be lower, but you will often receive an equity stake in the company which you can cash in at a later date. Depending on the startup and its growth potential, this can be equivalent to several years of a higher salary which you get all in one go.
Working hours: At a corporate employer, you are typically held to rigid hours, such as 9-5:30, though most people will regularly work later. It can be a battle to work from home, for instance if you have a doctor’s appointment, a house viewing, your boiler breaks down or any of the other pieces of life admin that you struggle to squeeze into the weekend. You may find yourself subject to a disciplinary if you regularly take long lunches, or come in 15 minutes late in the morning. You are however, entitled to a holiday allowance, which is typically around 25 days a year in the UK, excluding national holidays.
At Funeralbooker, as at many other startups, we operate a ROWE (Results Oriented Working Environment) policy. This means that as long as you do your work within the expected time, you can do it whenever and from wherever you wish. We also don’t have any holiday days apart from national holidays. We are free to take time off whenever we wish, so long as the work has been done. What this means in practice is that if you pulled a 16-hour shift on Monday and Tuesday and got through your entire workload, you can take the rest of the week off as holiday.
Opportunity to learn on the job: While every company is different in this regard, generally speaking, at a larger company you will have been hired to fulfil a specific role, and it can be difficult to move to another department. People often complain about being ‘siloed’ or restricted to doing one specific job, and that only.
Conversely, at a startup, you’ll have to wear a lot of hats. There are less people at a startup, so everyone has to pull their weight and contribute their opinion on major aspects of the business, whether that’s the way the website looks, recruitment matters, or PR and even sales. Furthermore, at a large company you’re unlikely to see much of the CEO and the upper echelons of management. At a startup you will interact with the senior management on an almost daily basis, and pick up plenty of valuable knowledge about the day to day running of a business.

Sign me up!

If you like the sound of the startup life, it’s worth remembering a few things before hitting that apply button.
  1. You will need to work hard and be accountable. There is no one for you to hide behind when something goes wrong.
  2. Working at a startup, although exhilarating and more relaxed is less secure than working at an established company. The whole thing can come crashing down.
  3. If you work on a ROWE system, be prepared to work weekends and evenings in exchange for taking Wednesdays and Thursdays off.
  4. Things can be a bit ramshackle at a startup, with the latest slimline laptops, ergonomic keyboards and large expenses claims considered a luxury that can be spared.
  5. Finally, if you don’t believe that the company can grow, don’t join it.

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