Career Advice

Want to Work in a Start-up?

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The start-up scene in London at the moment is booming.

Boris Johnson recently said there’s “nowhere to rival London for start-ups looking to thrive and grow”, and it certainly seems the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ as well as the numerous incubators and accelerators are doing a good job of nurturing London’s new digital businesses.

There’s a large and buzzing community around start-ups, and often these are the kind of people who don’t need a recruiter’s help, as they already have plenty of contacts. Normally, I’ll only be brought in at about the second round of funding, when a lot of hiring needs to be done in a short time frame, and the founders have worked through most of their existing contacts, or when the founder is not technical.

If you spend a lot of time at events, and you network with the right people, then you probably know a lot about the start-up scene, and you know people who can fix you up with a great job at one.

If you don’t, though, then it can seem like a daunting move to make from the more corporate, hierarchical 9-5, to the world of the start-up.

What do start-ups look for?

Obviously every company is different but, if I were to sum it up in one word, I’d say ‘passion’.

If you were starting a company from scratch, spending (initially), 60+ hours a week with a handful of other people, uncertain if it will pay off, then you need to be confident about those other people. You need to know that they, like you, hunger for your idea to work and be successful. You need to know that they are 100% behind your idea. This doesn’t really change even when the company reaches 50+, sometimes even 100+ employees, especially when this growth can happen within a short number of years in a fast-growth start-up.

When I screen candidates for culture fit in start-up tech roles, passion is one of the key indicators for me. This is everything from what a candidate does in their spare time, to the way they talk about their work, and if their eyes light up.

Does a corporate background count against you?

No, not necessarily, but I would definitely look at what the candidate has been doing outside of work – side projects, meet-ups etc. By the way, by ‘corporate’ I don’t just mean a large company – I mean the traits that unfortunately tend to come along with being a larger company – technically set in its ways, very hierarchical, slow moving. 

I think it’s a much more natural move to transition from an SME, because the start-up world is dynamic, evolving constantly, and usually very flat structurally, but it depends entirely on the individual, and it’s never too late to make the change.

I’d say the key thing here is to make sure you’re coding in your spare time. Swot up and make sure you know all the latest trends in your chosen technology. The tech space moves fast and if your company isn’t sympathetic to that then you need to be.

Is joining a start-up risky and time consuming?     

It can be, but you just have to be smart about it. I think it’s quite easy to tell if a start-up has legs or not. Look at where the money is coming from; if they have a concrete business plan beyond big dreams; if they have done their market research and have a track record in the space; who the other people working there are and what their backgrounds are.

I think when you consider what recently happened to Tesco, it’s clear that any company can falter, big or small. It’s only as big a risk as your research is careless.

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