The MurkyGrey blog


Talking to people about technology

Why NOT work for a sartup?

Somewhere out there is a CS student or a recent graduate who read my “Why work for a startup?” post and vowed to make a career in software startups. Well my friend, I love your style but be warned: the startup life is not all fun and games. Here’s what you should brace yourself for:

Risk and uncertainty

The fact is that startups fail at a much higher rate than older companies. It’s a risk you choose to take and you have to be prepared for. Work for startups long enough and you are guaranteed to experience painful layoffs and cutbacks, if not a complete collapse of the company. Can’t handle it? Don’t work for a startup! But remember: while startups are more risky than other companies, the illusion of complete job security anywhere is just that — an illusion.

Limited resources

Unless you plan to take my advice through a time machine back to the year 1999, the startup you work for will have limited resources. Do not expect glorious office space (that is, if you’re out of the founder’s garage and actually have an office). You’re equally unlikely to find unlimited expensive equipment or first-class travel. In a well-funded early stage startup you will have the tools you need to succeed, but in a “no frills” kind of way. You can expect a somewhat more luxurious setting once revenue from sales starts trickling in.

Stressful times

There are not too many of us and we’re running on a tight schedule with limited funding, it’s going to get stressful at times. Expect bouts of long hours, night and weekend work (but don’t let that become your long-term standard, you’re no good to anyone if you’re burned out).

What sacrifices have you had to make for your startup? Leave a comment.

Why work for a startup?

The question is obviously one that I never need to discuss with colleagues, but people outside the software industry and those who found their success in large corporations often find it strange; why would anyone choose to stake their career on a string of tiny companies, each with limited funding and an uncertain future? Well, I love the startup life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s why:


Ah, the startup atmosphere! The camaraderie! The sense of purpose that surrounds a small group of people dedicated to a common goal! The feeling that you hold your fate in your own own hands! You matter and you can make the company a success by doing the best job you can do. There is nothing quite like it.

Financial opportunity

If you work for a startup, you have equity. Whether it is a fat stack of founders’ stock or a modest package of incentive stock options, it means that if and when the company is successful, you will get your piece of the pie.


If you like some variety at work, you’re in the right place. With a small team, many of the business functions are performed by any team member who has some free bandwidth. That’s how as a developer, I got to do sales support, on-site customer support, collateral writing and more trade shows than I care to remember. It’s fun.

No nonsense

There are not too many of us, we’re running on a tight schedule with limited funding and a clear goal. There is simply no time for nonsense. We don’t sit through 3-hour meetings, we don’t do TPS reports and we don’t play office politics. The only reasonable thing to do is to focus on meaningful work.

Unusual perks

Startups are teeming with original thinkers and the flow of unique ideas does not stop when it comes to employee perks. While you should not expect to find on-site daycare or a company gym, other, more quirky perks are common. Think free snacks and soft drinks, gaming consoles in the break room, paintball outings and beer in the fridge for Friday afternoon happy-hour in the conference room (try to squeeze that one past HR in a Fortune-500 company), and there is excellent coffee, always.

Long-term prospects

As strange as it may sound, there are long-term prospects to be found in a startup. Regardless of whether your startup ends in an acquisition or fire-sale, one thing is guaranteed to outlive the company — the people you work with. The “startup people” will move on, most likely to another startup and if you play it right you will move right on up with them. Some of my friends have been moving around together as a group since 2003 and they are now on their third startup, having successfully sold the first two.

Also, not all successful startups get gobbled up by industry giants. While IPOs are not what they used to be, some continue to grow and evolve into privately-owned midsized companies that maintain many of the advantages of startup life for their employees.

What do you like best about the startup life? Leave a comment.