Holvi Blog for Makers and Doers

Don't work at a startup

Entrepreneurship · 31/05/2016, 14:22 · Nikolas Lempiäinen

With all the hype around tech startups, a lot of people want to jump on board with a hot startup to kick off their careers. But the real question is whether working in a startup is as fun and rewarding as many assume.

Success stories of the likes of Richard Branson and Elon Musk get people excited about startups. Buzz! Buzzwords! Exits! Growth! Startup offices have become something of a cliché where you have free cola and smoothies flowing and big lounge rooms filled with latest video games. Who would not want to be working at an amusement park and hang out for a job?


Work hard, play hard

Although media and businesses only highlight the glamour of the startup life, it is not the whole truth. Any growing business and evolving organisation is experiencing pains that are not visible to an outsider. Startups often do something close to impossible with a fraction of resources available to an established company. There are never enough hands for all the tasks that need to be done, and many startup employees end up taking a number of different roles in the company. This means long hours, challenging work, uncertainty and pressure to deliver results. Stress and chronic frustration. Welcome to the startup life! But in exchange it also gives you back a lot. 

Glamour of startup life is not the whole truth.

The variety of work is a blessing and a curse. It is hard to be able to fulfil many roles, but at the same time you learn more, than in many traditional workplaces. It is not necessarily a bad thing that the workplace forces its employees to develop themselves professionally and go outside of the comfort zone. How many are really motivated to educate themselves in their spare time? On the other hand, free time of a startup employee is often a vague concept. When there is a strong commitment to the company's success, work-life boundaries are often blurred.


Add hard work, high responsibility and huge workload to low compensation and you'll get startup work. No hand-holding and no one to give you the right answers. Constant pressure to perform and ever-changing direction and strategy. Being part of a startup is, in fact, a lot like being an entrepreneur. As a startup employee, you are in many ways your own boss. Startups have no time nor resources to micro-manage, coordinate or mentor. The only option is to hire employees who can work independently and have a strong motivation to create their own path.

How do you find motivation as a startup employee?

Startup employees are like intrapreneurs, who set their personal goals and who need to find creative ways to reach them. You can create your own work and be independent. You can make decisions that impact the business every day, and you can have a very steep learning curve.  It is for these reasons that working at a startup often feels more rewarding than in a corporate environment. Your motivation can also come from the option plan but it shouldn't be the only reason to join a startup as, let's be honest, there are no financial guarantees and the whole thing can fall apart at any moment. When considering whether to join a startup, first ask yourself whether you would be willing to be an entrepreneur in this field. Don't join a startup to get rich or to enjoy nice job benefits. Remember that startups operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty with very limited resources. If money and perks are what you are after, then go get yourself a traditional job. 

Don't work at a startup.

Your motivation to join a startup has to stem from the belief in a startup's mission. You need to feel like the company is doing something important. And I do not only mean, for example, health or environmental startups. There are plenty of important problems out there that need a solution. 


Only by doing something that is important to you, can you keep on going through all hardships that the startup life is filled with. Neither money nor other rewards can replace such motivation. That's why every startup job seeker (and entrepreneur!) should think through before taking a gig like this. 

But when you find your own thing, you must pursue it with great effort and every last bit of your enthusiasm. There will be skeptics who will question what you and your company are working on. But if you really believe in your startup's vision, you will not get discouraged. Of course, you should listen to constructive feedback and learn from it, but don't let it discourage you.

Startups are a team sport

Don't get me wrong — startups are not a bunch of lonely entrepreneurs sitting in the same open office. Working hard on a common goal brings people together as a well functioning team. Actually, there is nothing more encouraging than other motivated people around you. A team of motivated people can accomplish a lot. 

Holvi-team-is-kewl-1024x512When I'm frustrated, I know I can count on my colleagues. When I face a problem or a challenge, I know I can get help from my team mates. And I enjoy a lot to help people around me. There are no insurmountable challenges, when working with a good team.

Despite long hours and uncertainty, I have worked at a startup (and as a part-time entrepreneur) for several years now, and I do not regret it for a moment. I wouldn't have learned as much or gained a lot of first-hand experience in any other job, compared to my past few years with Holvi. And, of course, I am thankful for meeting amazing people here. My startup career has been quite a journey that will hopefully continue for many years.

Do not work at a startup — at least not without a good reason. 

Original post in Finnish by Holvi’s marketing manager Arttu, who has also his own business: ATiimi. 


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