What do you want in a job?

I have had a few things in the past week get me thinking more about working in start ups.  The first was having the privilege of sitting on the keynote panel at the ICE Conference in Edmonton.  A number of the same issues came up among the many IT professionals.  Why don’t IT positions have access to management positions?  What do I do if I don’t like working in a very structured company?  Among the managers of these large corporations, the questions were also around issues with employees.  How do I keep a young IT professional for any extended period of time?  How do I deal with this new generation of Millennials?

The thing that surprised me is how unhappy most people were with their jobs and how many managers were unhappy with their employees.  Larger corporations are having a hard time retaining employees and creating work environments that motivate them.  Instead, they try to enforce more rules and restrictions and provide “rewards” for those who play by the rules.  This leaves out the employee who is motivated and passionate to jump on new opportunities or possible improvements they see within their organization.

I want to briefly explain why I never even entertained this kind of career and what I love about taking the risk of working in early-stage companies.

  • If you are a technical person instead of education, qualifications and experience, these companies will look for a combination of passion, the love of learning, intelligence and ability to adapt to things.  Check out this great article for more on this.
  • Instead of having a corporation where employees and positions are very structured and bureaucracy reigns, start ups are managed and run based on relationships and there is a real team environment.  I love nothing more than seeing this kind of trust spread throughout the company as it is essential to the success of the business.
  • One word.  Ownership.  If a start up is properly run, the opportunity for ownership is immense.  I am not speaking about monetary ownership here, but rather the ability to take what you are working on and make it your own by calling the shots and producing the results you see possible.  You will not handed out mundane tasks, but rather be able to manage yourself.  I should note that this only works if there is a culture of responsibility and accountability built in to everyone.
  • There is never a boring day.  Sure it is not fun during the lows, but the highs make up for it.  Where you don’t have a lot of opportunity to affect the success of a large corporation, everyone has this ability in a start up.  And with a team mentality, this makes for a lot of ups and downs, but never a feeling of “putting in your time”.
  • Early stage companies, if run properly, should be rather flat in management hierarchy.  Sure you need a CEO, possibly a head of engineering or sales, but for the most part those titles are more important for external purposes.  Many have trouble working in a start up as they feel they aren’t “advancing” up the corporate ladder.  What you have to realize though is that you are developing your skill set and experiences at a much higher rate and your opportunity to take on larger roles and responsibilities never ends.

For even more reasons to join a start up, check out Canadian entrepreneur Ben Yoskovitz’s post on the same topic.

  • Kevin – Thank you for linking to my post on working at startups.

    You have an incredible story. I enjoyed reading your bio / history. From successful beekeeper to successful entrepreneur and angel investor. Amazing stuff.

  • Kevin Swan

    Haha, thanks Ben. I don’t know about successful, but I am definitely enjoying learning things along the way.

    Although it was very brief, we met at last year’s Banff Venture Forum. I enjoyed hearing about Standout Jobs and your journey. Canada needs more guys like you.

  • Scott Montgomerie

    Kevin – After working in 3 startups, as well as a Fortune 500, I completely agree. I attribute a large portion of where I am because of the opportunity I had to work in a startup when I was 17, where I quickly became the lead developer there (note to other startups – NEVER make an 18-year-old your lead developer). It was an amazing experience to have that much ownership in a product, and to have the kind of people and mentors around you that help you grow so quickly. It’s a great feeling to know that even though you’re not “paid” for every hour you work, every hour you put in is contributing in a large way to the success or failure of that company, which is hugely motivational.

    Having seen the other side of it in a Fortune 500, where you are “putting in your time”, I’d take the long hours and crappy pay any day over a great salary where what you do may or may not affect someone (though, as you said, in the lows of startups a Fortune 500 salary does sound pretty good).

    Great article – hopefully it helps more people get into the startup game where they can make a difference, grow, and really get something out of their lives.