The Things They Don’t Tell You About Working For A ‘Start-Up’

  • Published on:
    January 19, 2021
  • Reading time by:
    4 minutes
The Things They Don't Tell You About Working For A 'Start Up’ women on Topp start up

Being a part of a start-up is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. Most start-ups are fast-paced, agile environments at the cutting edge of technology and thought leadership. Sounds exciting but this type of workplace and culture is not for everyone. 

Here are some tips and tricks to help you thrive in your first role in a start-up

Put in your own money

If you are joining early on there might be an opportunity to have a share in the business’s success. Put in what you can afford or ask if a proportion of your salary can be put towards your shares. You will find yourself deeply passionate about the role and the business when your own hard-earned money is part of it all. You will find yourself focused on success. Imagine the money that could be made from your shares if it all goes very well! If you cannot put in your own money take up any company share options that get offered. Even if you do not stay in the business forever you are generating another source of income for yourself.


One of the great things about working for a start-up is the autonomous nature of most of the roles. Everyone is terribly busy therefore it is your responsibility to get on with your role and pitch in where and when you can. It is unlikely anyone will be on your back about deliverables which will be a nice change however you will still be expected to deliver so ensure you do. Most start-ups offer great flexibility regarding working remotely and within your best hours of the day too. This autonomy and flexibility is aimed at giving you the space to think and therefore perform at your best.

Thinking leanly

Most start-ups are small businesses running on minimal budgets. They must prioritise what and how they spend what they have. This means it is unlikely it will be business class travel and lavish lunches every week. There will be pizza lunches here and there for everyone and a fun Christmas do but do not expect to get a corporate card for yourself. It is time for you to start thinking leanly.

Start-ups love to use the latest software, technology, and process automation to save head count as staff are a business’s largest expense. Most roles will do more than one thing which is great for those who have a variety of different skills and can wear different hats. Being a lean company also means minimal hierarchy – there will be a management team but as the business grows there will be opportunity to move up and specialise in an area you built or are passionate about.

Many start-ups also hire university or graduate students. This is sometimes cheaper labour can offer the business a fresh perspective as well help with general resourcing. Using students can also allow a business to scale up and down during peak and off-peak times.

Win as a team

It is a great feeling to be part of a successful sprint or launched project. In many start-ups being a part of a winning team is part of the fun and achievement. Do not expect too much personal recognition no matter how hard you have personally worked as culturally the success of the team is what is recognised. Businesses do better when driven by winning teams.

The years will disappear

You will blink and the year will be gone. I know you say this in all roles but in a start-up, you spend blocks of weeks working awfully hard on projects, sprints, and deliverables. Before you know it, another month has disappeared, and then the days roll into years. Working at a start-up can consume your personal life as you will work harder and longer hours than you have before. It is exciting to be part of the business’s future and be consumed with your work and role. 

The years will also disappear due the fast rate of change that normally occurs within start-ups. Just as you learn a feature or process, there will be a new iteration, producing a new version which you will need to be across. This will keep you up to date on the latest technology and procedures, but you will also have to be prepared to be always learning on the job.

Lack of women in leadership

More women are starting businesses themselves however most start-ups are still run by men. Be prepared for male to female ratio to be disproportionate especially if the start-up is in the technology space. Many start-ups hire within their network – they are awash with old boys’ networks, director’s sons and investors pushing what and who they think is best. However, the great news is, good women can shine and lead well in this space. There is a lack of leadership and representation of women in most start-ups, so you are going to have to lead by example and show them what amazing talent you are. 

Policies and processes

Most start-ups use the latest software for everything from chat, calling, project management, accounting, and knowledge management. You will have access to everything and be expected to adequately use everything even if you have not used them before. It is unlikely there will be a designated IT person to help so learn to use Google to work out your issues or find a colleague who can help. You do need to become self-sufficient, especially, if you are working remotely. You will learn a lot by working in a start-up – it is one of the reasons to work for one as they are a great place to upskill and work with some great minds. 

Having minimal process and procedures means a lot of this will need to be created. If you are compliance and process focussed, then there will always be plenty for you to do. Over the years, start-ups need to build processes and business rules as they grow. The start-up will need to change over time as the business customer base and staffing grows. It is great to be a part of a growing successful business.

Working for a start-up is not for everyone but an amazing opportunity for those who might be looking for a different work experience and culture. They are the best learning ground for those who want to be entrepreneurs themselves or be a part of something new and exciting in the market!

Alicia Cohen

Currently, a freelance consultant, Alicia has over 20 years of the UK and Australian experience in professional and corporate roles within sales, management, and leadership. With post-graduate qualifications in publishing, communications, training and directorship, Alicia loves to chat about all things business, women’s affairs and digital.

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