Do your homework before joining a startup

On January 25, 2013

Startups are in news again. Thanks to communities like HN, we get to know some really cool startups and even find opportunity to work for them.

When employees publicly share information about their work and organization, we get some perspective about the company, and it becomes a bit easier to make our decision about joining them.

But what about those startups which you haven't heard about. There is a greater risk factor involved here, especially if you don't know even a single person who works for them.

When I joined a startup earlier, I did my homework, and tried getting whatever information I could get through google. I had no other way, as all my interviews were conducted online/via phone, and it wasn't possible to meet any existing employee personally.

Yet, things didn't work out as I had expected. Few months later, I left that company and had learned my lesson for life.

In retrospect, I can see what I missed out and what I did right before joining them. There are few factors which I should have concentrated upon more, than the others.

So, whether you are starting out in your career, or trying to make a transition to a new role in some startup, you have some homework to do before making that important decision. If I had to start again, here is what I would actually do, to make sure I am working for the right people.

Check the company website

Perhaps the most basic thing and the first thing that every one checks, when they apply for an interview. You will get plenty of important information here. Information about the company, their goals and mission, their work culture, their existing products, information about the founders, number of employees, and year of establishment.

You would get a good idea about the company and whether it matches with your personal goals or not.

See the owners profile on linkedin

If you are going to work for someone, make sure you know their background and accomplishments. A good place to know this is linkedin. Would you rather work for someone who comes from management background with zero technical knowledge, or someone who is technically competent with little knowledge about the business world.

You should get as much information as possible regarding the founders and owners because, its them who will make those important decisions daily regarding the products to be build, management style, work environment, and ultimately deciding where the company is heading.

See the employees profile

While you are there, it may also help to check profiles of existing employees, as its always a good idea to know about people with whom you will be spending most part of your day in the company.(for example, viewing my profile on linkedin, you will know that I like to make my own apps and write on blogs)

You can figure out whether they are beginners or experts, and whether they are capable of accomplishing great things in future. Also, you may find someone who has same background or interests like you and would be fun to work with.

See their earlier work

I think its a good idea to check their earlier work. See if you can find the products that the founders and employees have worked on earlier in their career. Does even one person has the required expertise to make a great product, or are they full of fluff having created nothing of real value.

See their existing products

This is a very crucial thing, and something that you MUST check. See their existing products and use them. What do they tell you? Are they quality products, or cheap imitations of popular products? Do they really solve any problem? Are they worth the price customers are paying for using them? Would you be proud to say that you build that product?

These are really, really important questions. Please don't ignore them. Everything you want to know about the company boils down to their products. It shows their focus towards quality, innovation, their users, their business sense, their potential, and at least gives some idea regarding their future products.

Understand their work culture

Many companies share their work culture on their website or on social networks. Their work culture shows how much they care for their employees.

It's just not about having more vacations, a swimming pool, or ps3 and xbox. What it tells you is, whether you will work there all the time, or you will also get some breaks to relax yourself. See if it has your favorite pastime activity. For me, it would be a library with good books and magazines, or maybe a quiet place to get a peaceful break and declutter my thoughts.

Understand their influence

This may not be really that important. Its just to give you some perspective about their salability power and their influence on social media and press. People with influence can sell even mediocre products by framing the right words and packaging it rightly.

Having influence is good, but this should not be the make-it or break-it factor. Creating great products and getting loyal users can result in gaining influence over time.

Understand their goals and passion

If you followed the above steps, you will be able to figure out their goals and passions easily. Are they heading towards becoming a great mobile gaming company?, or a leader in providing testing services to small businesses?, or your one-stop shop for all project management requirements?

Are they passionate about making cool voice based apps?, or getting clients for your business?, or making interactive learning software?

Identify them and see where your goals and passion fit in.

Understand their philosophy

By now, you should have understood their philosophy. What does it mean? It means describing the company in one simple sentence.

For example are they
a)a group of inexperienced people just wasting their time.
b)experienced, but totally money minded people, who only focus on earning more clients and money.
c)moderately experienced, but very passionate people, who are really making some difference.

Go ahead and describe the company in one sentence. Match it with your own philosophy and see, if they look the same, or complete opposite of each other.

Take your decision

Now, when you have all the information at your hand, take your time to decide, whether this is the right job for you. Do you see yourself growing personally and professionally, if you accept this offer? Are you sure you won't regret this even if you fail?

Don't take this decision in a hurry. You are going to spend your precious energy and talent doing this work. Don't underestimate yourself. Think whether they are worthy of having an employee like you. If the answer is yes, take it and give it your best shot. If the answer is no, don't worry and keep looking, it's not the last company on earth.

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