What you should know if you want to work in a startup

Graduates from Pakistan's universities are often skeptical of the quality of work experience they will get in a startup. The reality is startups offer a more challenging and rewarding experience than any they can imagine.


All CEOs understand the importance of a high quality team in making their business successful. Startup founders know this better than most. Even the best product and most well-thought-out business plan will fail without a good team, whereas even mediocre product can be iterated to perfection by individuals with the right capability and motivation levels.

In developed markets, notably in the US, where the startup industry is well rooted, the market understands the challenging and fast paced environment that employees in startups are exposed to, and rewards them accordingly. With the high failure rate of startups, what most individuals are joining startups for is less the compensation or the equity they may receive and more the experience and the thrill of creating something from the ground up. Should a startup not succeed, employees will rarely find themselves being penalized for having been part of it. On the contrary, the market tends to rewards these entrepreneurial risk takers. Thus, startups that gain even a modicum of traction find themselves able to attract among the best and most sought after talent from top universities and graduate programs.

In markets such as Pakistan, where the startup sector is more nascent, the market is more skeptical of the value of experience one gains in a startup, and resultantly, job-seekers tend to view employment in startups as something of a last resort, should the conventional jobs not come through. Only a limited number of home grown startups carry the kind of brand equity that attract talent, and that too mainly after having successfully raised venture funding. Meanwhile the international tech startups that are exciting for graduates to join cannot reasonably be considered “new” startups when taking into consideration their multi-million dollar operating budgets.

This perception bias on both the side of job-seekers and employers may well persist for many years till more locally grown startups prove themselves and create successful, sustainable businesses. This is unfortunate, as a number of entrepreneurial young graduates are dissuaded from taking on jobs in startups due to the misconception that these are less attractive jobs. Rather than take on jobs that will excite and motivate them, jobs that will challenge them and help them grow, these individuals, resign themselves to a slow ascent up the corporate ladder in traditional desk jobs in big companies.

The reality of life in a startup is far from the popular misconception, and those who are successfully able to land a position in a startup should be proud of becoming part of this selective community.

Working in a startup is challenging. More so than in other companies, team members of a startup have to be exceptionally bright, motivated and committed.

The following are 5 things that you have to keep in mind if you want to work in a startup:

  1. Be comfortable with change

Startups have to be adaptive and innovative. This means things frequently change. Your role, job description, and daily routines need to be routinely tweaked and adjusted to accommodate the evolving requirements of the business. This means you need to be flexible and comfortable working with ambiguity.

  1. Roll up your sleeves

Many companies talk about the importance of team work, but this is especially true in a lean startup environment, where your colleagues quite literally are depending on you to hold up your end. You have to be being willing to go above and beyond your job description to do what it takes to get the job done. This means doing all sorts of tasks, including mundane and tedious work, all with meticulous attention to detail and high output quality. There is no “coasting” in a startup.

  1. Prepare for real world, fast paced learning

Your learning is on-the-job. You have to learn by doing—this means learning from your experiences, learning by conducting research yourself, and studying up on relevant topics in your own time. In a startup you are expected to deliver. Your learning and development is fast paced and all in support of enabling you to do your job better and better with time. Be ready and able to apply what you learn.

  1. Be ready for high expectations

The individuals who join a startup have consistently been among the top performers throughout their academic careers. In a startup, you become one in a team of many other such individuals. The performance expectations are high, and while you are given all the tools and support you need to succeed, in the end, it is your attitude, effort, and capabilities that determine your success.

  1. Be aware of what you are getting out of your experience

Startups are lean, cost-conscious companies that do not compete with other companies on pay scales. Compensation grows based on performance. The real remuneration in a startup is a well-rounded learning experience, mentorship, an exceptional team of top caliber colleagues, and the exhilaration of creating something from scratch.