Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision
Over the course of this series, we’ve considered a number of skill areas that are helpful to companies in the startup stage of development. Whether they realize it or not (and many will not), startup companies need much more than technical skills and enthusiasm to build a business that will grow and prosper over the long term. Some of the skill areas that we’ve identified include opportunity-based thinking, risk management, and the ability to handle and overcome rejection.
For those who are keen to find a young venture and start contributing, it often takes much more than skills and enthusiasm (sound familiar?) in order to find the right fit. Startup companies can flash and burn like a shooting star in the night sky, and it can be difficult to identify which way a situation is trending until you’re on the way down. Perspective is critical, and in order to ensure that you’re investing your valuable skills into the right situation, it’s important to understand some of the cold realities about start up companies.
- Most will fail: Bottom line, the vast majority of startup companies won’t survive, ranging from quick failure to becoming stagnant and fading away over time. Don’t be fooled by those who achieve quick notoriety or attention, as many a startup who graced the pages of magazines or TV screens went on to subsequently fail.
- They consume without apology: Like a young child that relies on adults to feed, clothe, and keep them out of harm’s way, startup companies are all about consumption. They can require (or ineffectively use) an abundance of resources, including human, financial, and time. If you’re not careful, a startup company can consume your time and energy around the clock.
- They often don’t know what they need: Many entrepreneurs are new to both their venture and running a business and are typically not in a good position to understand what they need in order to move forward. This is why so many advisors are able to earn a living (for those who seek help) and also why so many startup companies fail (for those who don’t). The category that the startup you join falls into can impact your future in a big way.
- The work isn’t glamorous: Building anything is a “hands on”, trial and error, messy business. Whatever the roles in a particular startup company might be, far more is required in order to keep moving forward. Recognize that joining a young company means performing lots of less than glamorous tasks, and if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty (literally), you will likely be happier doing something else.
- Things can change really, really quickly: Young, emerging companies require agility, in order to chase opportunities, stay ahead of market trends, and make modifications in order to get closer to customers. What the focus is one week can quickly change, requiring the team to quickly adjust, adapt, and move forward. Surviving in this type of environment requires comfort with constant change, as well as the ability to work within it.
- It happens in real time: For all the planning that needs to be done in order to develop and move a venture forward, managing the business is live, not a dress rehearsal. Teams are often small and they rely on individuals to have the ability to determine what is required and take action; there are no layers of checks and balances here. Although this might sound exhilarating to some, the reality is that startup companies face and endure risk every single day.
If this doesn’t sound like an environment for the faint of heart, that’s because it isn’t. Having said that, the rewards are many for those who are up for the task. Like the childhood fairy tale, you will likely have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince (or princess!); that right startup opportunity. If you recognize that this is what’s required in order to get started, the focus can be on the journey to find “the one”, as opposed to being on the setbacks that emerge along the way.