You should only join an early-stage startup that has less than 1 year of runway if you have a high tolerance for uncertainty and change.
Because at this stage, uncertainty and change are the only two things that are guaranteed. And you’re guaranteed high doses of each.
Managing those two variables takes emotional maturity.
People think that “startup life” is sexy and fun and whiteboards—until they’ve experienced the realities. Yes, it can be those things, for sure.
But it’s also the most critical and unstable stage of any business's lifecycle. This is sink or swim time.
You have to be all-in. Like, all-in. You’re not playing startup. This is real shit.
Decisions are made fast—and they aren’t always the right ones.
Money is often a question mark.
And being told what to do is not part of the DNA.
(Autonomy sounds cool until you’ve experienced it in its truest form—where you’re off the leash and the team is looking at you to tell them how and why something should be done. This can be scary as hell for many people. Think deer in the headlights.)
That said, if you're one of these rare birds with the unique combination of temperament and EQ, joining a company in its earliest stage is your opportunity for rapid growth—personal and professional—that you cannot find anywhere else.
You can leapfrog your peers in real business experience and build a resume of the most useful and widely applicable skills that are often inaccessible to those who take the traditional path.
What’s more, you get to be part of building something. With any luck, it’s something great.
Because in exchange for uncertainty and change, you get access—access to founders and conversations and information and challenges and connection that naturally fade away as companies grow.
Just go in eyes wide open. Early-stage startups are far from glamorous.
Buy into the vision. But more importantly, believe in the founders. That's whom you’re truly betting on.
And if a founder uses the terms “unicorn”, “acquisition”, ring the bell” or any other hyperbolic startupy jargon in their recruiting pitch, run for it. They’re full of shit and not thinking about building a sustainable business.
Choose your path wisely. And have fun whenever possible. Sometimes, it’s the only thing keeping you going.