Do you really want to work at a startup?
Evan Prodromou has dire warnings for anyone entertaining the thought.
“Employees end up working 80-hour weeks, typically for low or no pay and worthless stock options that never pay out. Guilty that living the “startup lifestyle” (work from home, come in late, have fun) has caused schedule or feature slips, they push themselves too hard at work, to the detriment of their health and home life.”
I completely understand what Evan is saying. And he’s not the only one. Plenty of people lament long work hours and stress in startup environments.
But is that so much different than other work environments?
Stressful work environments aren’t owned by startups
What about lawyers-in-training? Right out of school, they’re often thrust into a law practice working harder than any startup employee. And treated pretty roughly too. A friend of mine in New York was completely fused to her BlackBerry. Days, nights, weekends, holidays, it made absolutely no difference. She’d be called in at a moment’s notice. She’d miss family events, friend’s weddings and other important life “stuff” for work. And she wasn’t alone.
What about medical residents? Ask Tony Hung what 36-hours straight of work in a hospital feels like.
And big businesses aren’t immune to slave driving either. EA Sports is a classic example. A couple years ago (if I remember correctly) there was a huge hubbub with them and the game industry overall about how employees were treated. And companies like IBM aren’t clocking people in “easy does it” 9-5 every day. Most of my IBM friends work longer hours than I do.
Startups can be different
There’s no shortage of examples beyond startups where people are overworked, stressed to the max and sacrificing. That doesn’t make it right, but the magnifying glass is often pointed specifically at startups as hostile work environments.
As well, I don’t think my reasons for working at a startup can be matched completely in other industries and jobs. Some of them yes, but all of them?
And startups don’t have to have ultra-stressful work environments. In other cases there’s less choice. Medical residents can’t switch hospitals to find a “more relaxed” work space. (Of course, they’re out there saving lives, I certainly recognize the difference in magnitude…)
With startups, you can diminish the stress level and the insane hours. I’ve seen it work. Yes, there are lots of “ifs” as Evan points out, but that’s what life is all about anyway…ifs.
I’ve seen the good and the bad
I’ve done my share of sleeping at the office, all-nighters, marathon work sessions…I’m sure there are more on the horizon, but within limits. When starting a company you choose the type of culture you want to create. And a significant part of that culture is tied to work environment, hours, stress levels and expectations. When joining a startup you need to really explore that work environment and culture, understand it as best you can, and see if it’s right for you.
You should know the risk so you can look for it and be prepared for it. But the risk is worth it. And the risk runs through lots of industries and businesses; you can’t hide from it just because you don’t join a startup.