Adam Nash, executive-in-residence at venture capital firm Greylock Partners and former VP of product management at LinkedIn, recently offered up some sage advice to those considering a high dive into the startup world.
There are typically two types of engineers who thrive during a startup’s early stages he notes: those who have a maximum drive in their desire to develop a product people will use, and those who have a giant itch to build the next big company. There’s also a third type who have startup potential: engineers who get an adrenaline rush from being part of an all-hands-on-deck development team at a late-stage company.
“Growth is unstable and scary,” says Nash. “If you’re an engineer who needs to see all the requirements [of a project], or is religious about architecture, then you won’t like a late stage or early stage company.”
Before You Leap
Engineers who fall into the passionate, or Bob the builder camp, need to be smart in choosing a startup. Nash advises that you find out which VC or angel investor is backing the company. Funding from a well-known source serves as validation of the strength of the business and given that most startups don’t have strong cash flow, it pays to have that added assurance.
How to Stick Your Landing
Engineers have a tendency to think of the next job as the one they’ll have for the rest of their lives, as opposed to the one they’ll have for the next two years, with potential to renew for another two years. It’s an unorthodox way of thinking for those of you who are left-brained.
“Engineers need to act like VCs in managing their careers,” Nash says. “They’re investing in human capital.” He advises those who presume they’re ready for startups to think of the job they’d like to have in another two years, and then find a job that will qualify them for that position in that time frame. The idea is try to hop one job ahead toward that goal, versus trying to land a job that would put you two hops ahead.
Watch out for startups that are eager to hire before you’re ready. “A company that would allow you to hop two jobs ahead is suspect,” he warns. “Why would they do that, when they could find the person who does have that experience?”
You may find that joining a startup is a rich opportunity for advancing your career. But again, in order to increase your chances of a successful landing into the unknown, do your research and keep your needs, strengths and traits in mind before you hop, jump or leap.
“People at startups are passionate and often eccentric,” says Nash. “It’s at big companies where things get normal.”