The ins & outs of working in a startup. Is it right for you?

The Romanian startup ecosystem is flourishing and it’s more evolved now than ever before! In 2016 alone, Romanian startups raised 11.3M EUR and 72M EUR in exits in disclosed rounds. The trend continued over 2017, with 15+ important investment rounds being closed, while the beginning of 2018 brought us the first Romanian unicorn, UIPath, which raised $153M in a Series B led by Accel at a 1.1B valuation.

These add up to the increasing numbers of local exits that happened lately: Vector Watch was acquired by Fitbit for 12 million euros, Clever Taxi by Daimler through Mytaxi (for an undisclosed sum) and Cyberghost by Crossrider for 9.2 million euros.

Not only are Romanian startups becoming more visible on the global tech scene, but more and more international ones start local operations in Romania: Uber, Revolut, Glovo, Fitbit or Hootsuite, to name just a few. In this context, working in a startup in Romania might be the next big thing for you if you’re looking to make a career change. But is it a viable option for you?

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Is working in a startup right for you?

Working in a startup is different than working for an established company and it may or may not be the right choice for you. Harvard Business Review has identified 3 qualities that a future startup employee must have before they begin searching for a startup job.

  • Managing uncertainties. Everything that happens in a startup is dynamic and it doesn’t follow any rule book. If you want to join a startup you should be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty: there’s no path out there, you are the one creating it.

  • Be able to push the limits. When faced with a problem, you must be the person that instinctively starts looking for a more efficient and repeatable solution. Then, you must iterate quickly to make it the best possible solution.

  • Think like an owner. You should always think, feel and act like the owner of the company if you want to be successful. This means treating the company’s resources as your own and it might come along with some foregone weekends and late hours in the office.

If this sounds like yourself, then you need to find the right company. You might be a fit for the startup environment, but not any startup out there will be a fit for you. In order to nail it down, make sure to:

  • Pick an industry that you like.
  • Pick a city that suits your lifestyle and future plans.
  • Pick a startup that is at the right stage - the work environment of an idea stage company is light years away from one that is prepping for an IPO.
  • Pick a winner - look for the right team, their business model and the market potential that they have.

If you still think you fit in the fast-paced startup environment, then read on! We interviewed a couple of startup employees to help you better understand the ins and outs of working in a startup.

Find out more by Joining the Startup Matchmaking Event to check out for yourself!

Where do you find startup opportunities?

While most startup employees have heard about their current company from the media or by attending events where the startup was present, there are some for which networking with the team or even being headhunted by the founders directly has worked best.

“He [Oliver Auerbach, CEO at GloriaFood] had reached out to me on LinkedIn. His profile was outdated, the title was still CTO at Avira. I think this was part of the strategy: the CTO of a big company wants to talk to you about a project. Of course I was flattered, so I agreed to a Skype call :)”, said Liviu Bunda, Full-Stack Web Engineer at GloriaFood.

If you’re looking for jobs in startups, make sure to keep an eye on the relevant media. Although there are not a lot of dedicated platforms in Romania, Start-up.ro has an interesting jobs section and chances are you will find opportunities there. LinkedIn is another great place to find out which startups are hiring in your city.

Leaving these aside, you’ll always find the best opportunities out there offline, by connecting directly with the startup founders or their employees. Keep an eye on the companies of interest to you, see where they’re going and meet them there. They might not be currently recruiting for your position, but you will get to know them and you might end up exploring collaboration opportunities before you know it.

The interview process

Once you’ve settled that you are a right fit for the startup environment and you’ve found the right company, just stick to that one motivation that it’ll drive you to click the “Apply” button.

In most cases, startup founders are the ones you will have the interview with (which usually consists of 1 or 2 discussions), as they want to make sure that you are the right fit for their company. In order for this perfect match to happen, they expect you to be open and sincere. This is what Alexandru Panica, QA Engineer at Appsulate, did and it worked wonders.:

“The interview at Appsulate was one I will probably never forget. As having no expectations of being hired, I was completely honest regarding my skills, personality, professional expectations and the reasons I left the previous company I worked for.”, he remembers.

However, besides telling the whole truth about yourself, founders want to know what do you think about the company and how can you bring your contribution to improve their product. Liviu Bunda, Full Stack Web Engineer at GloriaFood, believed that having an articulate opinion about what he will work on has mattered a lot at this stage.

Here are some tips to succeed in the interview process, from startup employees themselves:

  • Be confident about your previous experiences and own them. They shaped you into who you are today.
  • Be open, be honest, don't hide your excitement
  • Ask as many questions as you can to make sure it actually is what you want. Remember you are also interviewing the startup!
  • Be sincere and trust yourself, you don't want to work in a place in which you don't fit in.
  • Try to see the vision from the founder’s point of view. Do some research about the company and try to understand the founder’s vision and the mindset.
  • Last but not least, smile. That could definitely make a difference.

Compensation and benefits

Ok, so the interviews went well, you really liked the guys / gals and you would be happy to start working with them. At this point, you might be wondering what’s in it for you. What compensation and benefits should you expect? How will the offer look like?

On the bright side, you should expect a fair compensation to match your experience and the market. You will seldom find yourself in a position to take a cut: if they can afford to do this, startups value their employees and will reward them accordingly. Although the offer might not come in the official format you might have seen from established companies, you will most likely receive an email from the HR person or the founder itself, and it will come along with additional perks:

  • Share options / stock units - most startups will not only offer you a gross yearly salary, but they will complement it with shares. This way you will be a true owner of the company.
  • Flexible work hours. Forget about the 9 to 5. Most startups don’t care about the time you get to work, but about how fast and good you get your job done. Results over boundaries.
  • Flexible holidays. Forget about planning your vacation with months or an entire year in advance. Startups will offer you more flexibility and, sometimes, unlimited holidays / more paid free days per year than established companies.

Oftentimes, these come along with a better office location: most startups choose to work from centrally located co-working spaces such as TechHub Bucharest or rent their own spaces far from the crowded industrial areas. Add this to the fact that you will be working closely with passionate people that believe in what they do, the learning opportunities and the fact that you will be able to bring a real contribution to the business.

On the downside, however, there are a couple of things to take into account:

  • The range of benefits offered by established IT companies will be higher than those a startup can possibly offer. From catered lunches to private health insurance and gym membership, you will most likely have to forgo those.
  • Flexible work hours mean that you work anytime, anywhere, from everywhere. You might find yourself burning the midnight oil or spending some weekends in the office with your peers. The number of hours you will end up working are generally higher in a startup than in an established company
  • Although you will have a role and specific responsibilities, these are not carved in stone and you might end up doing more stuff, both high-level (management) and lower-level such as ordering office supplies, taking out the garbage or changing a light bulb.

Working in a startup. The beginnings

Let’s assume at this point you accepted your offer and you are going to start working in a startup soon. You might be wondering what you should expect. How does a regular day in the office look like?

‘Surprisingly’, we’ve discovered that startup employees enjoy similar habits as any other employee, such as starting the day with a good cup of coffee, preparing the to-do list for the day, reading the emails for 30 minutes, working uninterrupted on their tasks for maximum efficiency or having lunch with their colleagues.

However, there are some things that make the startup day special. Veronica Petic, HR & Account Manager at Minutizer, has told us that unless she has discussions scheduled for the day, she can come in whenever she wants or simply login remotely. She points out that “each of us appreciates this freedom greatly and it makes it easy to do our job when and where we’re at our most productive”.

Moreover, Florina Ieremciuc, Frontend Engineer at Appticles, shared that the best advantage of coming to work in a coworking space where you are surrounded by startups, is that “you get to take part in the discussions regarding the latest trends in tech and other really interesting topics.”

Working in a startup also comes with a series of advantages:

  • You will constantly learn new things.
  • The team is small enough for effective group discussions in order to generate ideas, debate, and reach conclusions as a group.
  • It’s a professional, but friendly environment.
  • Ideas can be freely discussed and passed around.
  • You will be working with KPIs and clear objectives.
  • The context changes constantly so there is no time to get bored.

What it takes to be truly part of the startup culture

However, working in a startup is not always pink and shiny, and the startup life can be difficult at times. You have to work harder at the beginning until your customers gain trust in you, you must find workarounds to fit in the bootstrapping culture or you might have to deal with instability from time to time.

As the startup grows, the problems change. For example, you may need to pause the fast-paced growth at times in order to tackle some technical challenges or be prepared to manage ambiguity and decisions as you not always know what is the right answer.

The main hurdle encountered by startup employees is that you need to be able to organize the chaos. In a startup there’s a lot of freedom, which gives you speed, but this means you don’t have the processes put together. This can be overcome by organizing yourself, using tools to automate your work, asking your peers for help (which you can do at any time) and pulling in some extra hours.

This combination of the above four solutions can be applied to other challenges such as preparing a product architecture in a very short time or generating and implementing new ideas to attract clients when there are slow revenue times.

Conclusion

As any other choice, working in a startup has its ins and outs! Although exciting and rewarding, you might end up feeling overwhelmed and burn out fast if you are not the right fit.

If you’re interested in finding out more and exploring potential collaboration opportunities, apply now for Startup Matchmaking and come meet startups that are currently recruiting or searching for co-founders. See you soon!