Since I've joined Landbot, a lot of people ask me what factors weighed in my decision. I'll explain my thought process and share the most important factors you should consider before joining a startup.
At a time when the market is super hot, I hope to help you make the right decision and avoid some bad ones.
Start by looking at yourself and understand if a given startup and role fit your current needs and future ambition. Those come as a combination of several factors.
The opportunity in front of you represents the next step in your career path. First, you should establish where you are and where you want to go, then ask yourself:
- Is this the next logical step in the direction I'm heading?
- Does it allow for room to continue growing in the future?
- Will it open up new paths?
Ask the recruiter what's expected of you and don't be afraid of taking on challenges that you don't feel 100% prepared for. That's how you leapfrog and evolve into the next version of yourself.
Beware that career path and job title are not the same things. When joining a startup, you might be able to negotiate an impressive title - after all, titles are free to give and the org is mostly open.
If you're doing the work of a generalist marketing manager but taking a CMO title because you got there first, this doesn't mean you've just reached the top of your marketing career.
What it means is that you've maxed out on title progression, and you will likely be demoted to something like Director in the future, maybe even in the same company.
That said, a job title is still very important and serves to position yourself in the market. You want each new title to be better than the last, to reflect your responsibilities and experience, and to stick - so consider it carefully and use it to your benefit.
Salary is one of the main factors to consider in a job offer. You must negotiate a fair compensation. That means it's aligned with the value you bring, with what the market is paying, and with your new team.
Don't shy away from this discussion. The objective is that once the negotiation is done, salary will not be an issue for anyone.
A good question to ask your employer is: do you want me to focus 100% on my job or be distracted from my responsibilities because I don't think I'm being paid fairly?
A lower fixed salary can be supplemented with a strong performance bonus.
If the bonus is an important part of your compensation, understand exactly how it works:
- Is it based on individual or company performance?
- Who sets the objectives?
- How often and how is it paid?
- What percentage of current employees are getting their bonus?
On the far end of the risk and reward spectrums, we have equity. The more equity you get, the bigger payout you may receive in the event of a successful exit.
However, no matter how much equity you get, the odds of it ever being worth anything are still statistically low.
While you can't depend on equity to pay rent, it could represent the biggest financial gain you will ever have in your life, and the odds are still a lot better than buying lottery tickets. More importantly, employees with equity work towards a big common goal.
Extras like health insurance and meal allowance add to the overall package and should be considered. A strong package of perks can be worth a salary cut.
Office perks, such as free food and drinks, table tennis, and massages are nice to have but I don't consider them a decisive factor.
Likelihood of success
When joining a startup, you are betting heavily on the success of the business to reap the rewards. Most of the personal opportunities of working in a startup only materialize while it's growing and hitting all the right milestones.
For that reason, and because we know that 90% of startups will fail, it’s critical to understand if the odds are in their favor.
To do that, you need to think like an investor and analyze the product and the team.
In a perfect world, you will fall in love with the product you will be contributing to build or sell. More pragmatically, you will want to understand if there's a market for it and how it ranks against the competition.
You probably want to join a startup that has found some degree of product-market fit (being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market), especially if you're in Marketing. It's challenging enough to achieve exponential growth when there is a fit.
Look for metrics like customers and revenue, but also new signups, sales velocity, retention, and churn.
Strong competitors or a saturated landscape can seriously limit your growth. You can't avoid competition, at least not for long, but try to understand if there are some unique aspects to the product that will make it possible to differentiate from the competition and are not easily replicable once they start trying to catch up.
Just try it
It’s not always possible to experience the value of the product yourself - you may be too far off from the target user. Whenever it is possible, do it.
For example, I built my reading recommendations bot with a Landbot free account before I decided to join the company. This first-hand experience was key in my understanding of the product, value proposition, and target audience.
I saved the best for last. The people you will be working with are the most important factor to determine if you will look back in regret or with pride.
In the long-term, it's those people that will make decisions, build the product, engage with customers, recruit even more people, and ultimately drive the business to success or oblivion.
They are the people you will be seeing every day and influencing how you feel about your job and your life.
It should be clear that choosing the right people to work with is the top priority, so how do you do that?
All the emails, meetings, and interactions that you have during the recruiting process are a small sample of what will become a considerable part of your life when you join. Use them to look for signs.
Faced with the impossibility of predicting future behaviors, you should look for shared values in the people, especially the ones in leadership positions. Reading the company values is a good start - Landbot's values are Human-first, Adaptability, and Unity.
The next step is trying to understand if the team lives by those values. In other words: what business opportunities have they given up or are willing to give up to uphold those values?
Ideally, you want to join a team where diversity is welcome and encouraged. Look for signs of inclusivity in gender, sexuality, cultural background, nationality, religion, etc... Besides all the ethical reasons for being inclusive, a higher diversity is correlated with higher chances of being successful as a startup.
Top players want to play in top teams. Check the profiles of the existing team and their hiring plans. Do they exhibit clear strengths and are they taking action to bring the right people to cover their weaknesses? Are they cutting some corners or taking recruitment and people development seriously?
I advise that you look for people with a growth mindset - meaning they are humble, welcome feedback, and are constantly learning. This is crucial at all levels of the organization.
It means you should quickly walk away from people that believe they already have all the answers, react harshly to feedback, and don't learn from their mistakes.
If you value feeling empowered at work as most people do, join a team where this is embedded in the culture. Talk to your future manager and understand their management and communication styles. Even better, ask some of their direct reports what are their biggest challenges.
Being remote-first can be a sign of our times, but also a reflection of trust and autonomy.
People, Product, Opportunity
Now that you know how I've made my decision, you can use my framework to evaluate your options and find your dream job. There are a lot of startups looking for people like you right now, good luck!