Ask the Experts

The Express Train

My friends are looking to work for big companies after graduation. Should I consider joining a tech start-up right out of college?

When we hear the phrase tech start-up, you think of tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Google, which were founded by college students. However, the stats show that over 90% of tech start-ups fail. We assume you do not have the prescience to determine whether your opportunity will succeed or fail. All start-ups seem to be great ideas. Here is what you should consider.

The traditional path for college graduates has always been an entry-level position on the corporate ladder with opportunities to climb it and prosper. But with more and more start-ups emerging, the opportunities with them are boundless.

Working for a smaller organization often requires a lot more flexibility and the ability to multitask. Young companies change direction so you will be expected to adapt with them and learn new skills.

Larger companies tend to compartmentalize people and their hierarchies force you into a specific career path. At a start-up, you could be working on a range of different projects discovering talents that you never knew you had. However, things may not go as planned and things may fail. In a large corporation this could be devastating, but at smaller organizations things often work with trial-and-error.

You gain vital entrepreneurial skills working in a start-up environment, which will be crucial as your career develops. Without the budgets to pay high salaries, you may be compensated in other ways at a start-up. These could include a stake in the company itself, which could lead to a big payout if the company goes public. Loyalty and camaraderie are built by sharing company ownership, explains management at Ocean SEO, because you all have a vested interest in its success and will be motivated by more than a paycheck.

The enthusiasm is contagious and you will be working side by side with passionate and innovative people. Your voice will count since lower staffed organizations tend to have a less structured hierarchy. Teamwork therefore is essential and it will be like a small family. There is a feeling that you make a difference that is not shared working at large established corporations.

A big attraction is a unique culture at tech start-ups. There is a more relaxed work environment, more flexibility and less rigid hours and schedules. You may have to put in more time though, as work and life are often intertwined at small emerging companies. Some companies actively encourage staff to be relaxed and comfortable at the office, offering perks to encourage bonding and loyalty.

As mentioned, expect some financial instability at a start-up, because you will not see a generous salary from day one. There is a lot of uncertainty also, as investors may pull out or funding may dry up leading to a company collapse. All start-ups are not equal, so do your research.

Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you… Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO.

Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times.