How to Pick the Right Startup to Join

So you’ve been interviewing for startup jobs for a few months and have received a few job offers (lucky you!). But how do you choose between the companies? 

Joining a startup poses risks and rewards, which is why it’s important to spend time weighing up the pros and cons of each job offer. Joining a fast growing, innovative and well-run startup can really kickstart your career, open a lot of doors and provide you with a whole host of opportunities. However, joining a poorly managed, stagnating startup can lead to burnout, unhappiness and flagging motivation. 

Through speaking to a lot of people, drawing on personal experiences and scouring the internet for the best advice, I’ve come to one key conclusion. When picking the right startup to join you should think like an investor.

This means, first and foremost, evaluating whether the startup’s mission and end product make sense to you. Is it something that you would use and/or could see others using? Try and determine whether what the startup builds is valuable to the world. I know this is a slightly fluffy statement, but do your research, and ask your peers and people with knowledge of the industry for their opinions. This can help you form a judgement. And if you don’t believe in the end mission, then it’s probably not right for you!

Secondly, look for evidence that the startup is already succeeding. Of course, if it’s in its early stages, data will likely be difficult to come by. But you should ask about early client wins and breakthroughs when your interviewing – does it sound like they’re making progress? When there is more public tangible data, look at growth. What trajectory are they on? This is more important than absolute figures.

You want to work somewhere that could become the next Facebook or Google, not somewhere that has a (relatively) high turnover but flagging growth in the early stages. For example, joining Facebook in 2008 would have been far more lucrative than joining MySpace, which had a higher turnover at the time. 

Thirdly, evaluate how strong the team and the management are (in your mind). A startup’s success is often directly proportional to its founders ambitions. Have a dig into their credentials – do they have a strong academic / professional / entrepreneurial background, and come across as inspirational people you can truly learn from? Have they founded or been part of other “successful” startups? It’s certainly helpful if it shows that they know how to grow a company from the ground up. Also, investigate their leadership style when interviewing. Are they people of character? Are they tenacious? Are they approachable and do they foster a great company culture? If possible, read their blog posts and watch their interviews to better understand how they operate. This is important, as talented and driven people also recruit like minded individuals – so if the founders are of high calibre, then it’s likely the team will be too. 

Once you have determined whether (or not!) you would invest in the startup based on these three initial areas, establish exactly who you would be working with and how they would support you. The smarter and more experienced your colleagues are, the more learning opportunities there will be. Great mentors also motivate you and provide opportunities for you to create impact. You can evaluate this by paying careful attention during your interview. Is your interviewer noticeably passionate about the mission? Are they switched on and engaged? It’s difficult to fake enthusiasm and drive. 

Lastly, have they received investment? And if not, is there a good reason? When a company attains venture funding, it’s a big signal that it’s heading in the right direction and others have bought into its mission. Investors have made a (pretty expensive!) bet that it will be more valuable in the future. They’ve made this bet after conducting extensive market research, consulting experts, assessing company management and analysing the company’s data. In effect, they’ve carried out a lot of your research for you!! 

An even BETTER signal is when the investors have a stellar reputation. The best VCs attract the best, most successful startups, so it’s really encouraging when the startup you are considering joining has big backers. 

Here are a few of the biggest names in VC (there are hundreds of others, of course!):

  1. Index Ventures – portfolio companies include Facebook, Asos, Adyen, Net-a-Porter and Dropbox (they’re also an investor in our parent company, Adzuna!)
  2. Accel Partners – portfolio companies include Facebook, Slack, Dropbox, Braintree and Spotify.
  3. Andreessen Horowitz – portfolio companies include Facebook, Groupon, Pinterest and Github

A quick look on Crunchbase will tell you everything you need to know about the company’s investors!

So…. this has been a pretty heavy blog post! I assure you though, the extra time and effort you put into picking the right startup can have enormous dividends. You might even join the next “unicorn”!

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