No job security

Sure, startups are risky and the fact is that not all of them will survive. If you don’t have some risk tolerance and feel like you might be constantly bogged down by startup ups and downs, then it might not be a good fit to work for a startup.

That said, most startups provide the same level of stability as a corporate giant. Think about how many people you know that have been affected by a company-wide layoff or restructuring as giants trim the fat. It happens often, and people never expect it. So while the company may be around forever, it doesn’t mean your particular job is safe.

Startups also may offer equity when they are in the beginning stages as a measure of good faith to reward employees who buy in early. This not only helps compensate for risk, but also creates loyalty and tenure in early-stage employees. Let’s face it, equity is the best way to win long-term in a startup, so its importance should not be undervalued.

Think about this in another way. Startup jobs are very versatile, and while you may worry about job security, they definitely provide career security. You will be solving difficult problems and learning new things to expand your skill set. You will also be building relationships with people you can learn from who themselves have large, active networks. After a few years, your career options will be much broader in scope, setting you up for future success.

The pay is low

Startup founders have to be mindful of runway, which does come into play in salary decisions. However, startups are not subject to the difficulties imposed by company politics which some larger companies can be notorious for. Startups can use their money how they wish and make salary decisions based upon what they feel the position is worth. They don’t have to adhere to guidelines set by high-level executives who may be out of touch with what is happening on the ground level. 

Let’s also think about growth opportunities. When you receive an offer from a giant, you will likely be subject to the corporate ladder in terms of growth. It can take awhile, years in fact, to receive a promotion. You may sometimes feel stuck if your direct supervisor is a lifer whose retirement will be your only opportunity to advance. Startups don’t operate that way. They aim to scale quickly, which means fast growth for employees. The teams are also small, so you will easily stand out if you are exceeding expectations. Founders like to reward and retain high-performers, so if you crush it, you can advance quickly. It all depends on you.

Everyone is under 25

We all hear stories of teenage entrepreneurs founding global companies, which leads to a common misconception that all staff are under 25. This is simply not true. According to, founders from the Top .1% of startups started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old.

It’s also true that the best founders hire people with expertise that they don’t have, who have the confidence and experience to manage their function independently. Age is never a determining factor on the skills of a person. What really makes a difference is attitude, ability to learn, experience, and natural talent, which manifests in job seekers of all ages.

You work long hours

Here’s a tricky one. I’ve interviewed hundreds of job seekers in Buffalo in the past year who are interested in startups, and work-life balance continually surfaces as an important criteria. Let’s dig into this. Startup teams are small, and everyone needs to give 150%. It’s a fact that some startups will demand everything and will think you are not working hard enough if you are not sleeping under your desk.

But, many startups aren’t like that. You will work hard. You will put in unusual hours (lovers of 9-to-5 need not apply). And you will be on demand to put out all-hands-on-deck fire drills. The key difference here is that you will do these things because you want to, not because you feel forced to. Startup employees often aren’t rewarded by who stays in the office the latest or who comes in earliest. Rather, overall performance and impact is what makes the difference.

In a nutshell, most startups offer flexibility in schedule, generous paid time off, and the ability to work remotely to help manage life’s challenges. Some startups offer much better work-life balance than their larger counterparts because of this flexibility. Founders often think of their teams as family and treat them as such. However, this ‘family feel’ also has a flip side. If you are slacking on a team of 10, it will be noticed and you might find yourself reworking your resume.

Startup life is glamorous

With the endless ramen-to-millionaire success stories we hear coming out of places like Silicon Valley, it’s no wonder that many people think startups are a glamorous business. While you might be more likely to run across a free lunch, ping pong table, or some cutting-edge gadgets, the reality is that startup life is tough.

Startups are really just small businesses. Isn’t it funny how “small business owner” sounds so much less cool than “startup CEO.” Startups are mindful of resources, and will not often have as many of the luxuries that larger corporates offer. That huge cabinet with every kind of pen, Post-It, and office supply you can imagine doesn’t exist. Startups are scrappy, and if you need to be pampered at work, it’s probably not the lifestyle for you. Having a do-what-it-takes attitude, whether that means running a high-profile meeting or putting together a desk yourself, is what makes you startup savvy.

You must be a technical genius

Many startups are on the cutting edge of technology, and being tech-savvy is part of fitting in. But you don’t have to be a super coder to do it. Some of the most important startup roles require expertise in other areas – marketing, project management, finance, sales – to name a few. No product will launch successfully without promotion and selling! No business can succeed, let alone a startup, without these other core functions that don’t rely on a strong technical foundation.

One tip here: it’s important to keep all of your skills current, including tech. You should be continuing to improve yourself so you don’t fall behind. When interviewing, I am often saddened when people get complacent and too secure, thus rendering themselves outdated. Staying fresh also maintains your capacity to learn and adapt quickly, which is crucial to success in any type of business.

Startup jobs are totally chaotic and unstructured

This myth really depends on the size of your startup, which can range from one person working out of an apartment to a 50-person team. In a larger team, there will be more structure and people will work in more specialized areas. In a team of 5, you’ll be wearing many hats and your responsibilities will vary from day to day.

But this doesn’t mean your job will be complete chaos – think of it more as controlled chaos. It is up to you to take responsibility to structure your role and create your own path in the company. If you are a self-starter, you should thrive in this setting and this flexibility to shape your role is a huge advantage to advance your career. Startups provide an amazing opportunity to experience different specialty areas, find what you like best, and work towards that preference.

Bottom Line

We’ve all heard the phrase “high risk, high reward,” which really sums up what it can mean to work for a startup. The opportunity is huge, and you shouldn’t be afraid of some of the myths we’ve debunked. But also understand the reality and do a deep dive into your own career goals and personal preferences to see if it is a fit for you!