8 Questions to ask before working at a startup

During the interview process, regardless of the size of the company, equipping yourself with as much background knowledge about the company and questions about the role and how your goals mesh with the objectives of the company is the kind of artillery that mitigates setting yourself up for failure.

If you were going camping you wouldn’t just toss items in a bag haphazardly without looking down the line at what might protect you. You conduct research, read online reviews and consult experts at what are the best tools to keep you safe and well while battling the elements of the wilderness.

So if you’re interviewing for a role with a Fortune 500 company or a startup with some fresh VC money burning a hole in their pocket, executing your due diligence and coming in with pointed questions to ask will help flush out if this is truly the opportunity you want to take. The only difference with the latter in this scenario is that startups have a higher degree of risk, and they will likely need to solidify their place in the market before they can sit back a bit.

Whether you’re a few hours away from stepping foot in an interview room or you’re waiting on a pending offer, ask yourself these 8 pointed questions to determine if a role at a startup is perfect for your next career move.

  1. Who is the CEO?

Startup CEO’s are relied to set a unified vision and culture, ensure the business has capital and is on good financial footing and can recruit top talent. And when the headcount is still down and the long-term vision is still being solidified, all eyes are on the CEO and what they can do.

TechCrunch published an article saying that “85% of startups fail, but if the CEO has built and sold a startup before, the odds go down 25%.”

So it’s a wise bet to start researching whom the CEO is, have they built anything and sold it before, and what is their professional pedigree? Check out the backgrounds of the management team for that matter – investors look at this, and so should you!

  1. Do they have good funding?

This question ranks up there with question #1, because if a company is not on a solid financial ground, then long-term planning is compromised for several short term trade-offs. It’s important to look beyond if they’re backed by a venture capitalist firm. VC money is quite common, especially in tech. Look at who is investing their money, who is on the board of directors and where they have previously invested there money, and how well has it done. This will help you paint a strong fiscal picture.

  1. What is the vision of the company?

It can be difficult to wake up everyday and drag yourself in to work for a company whose vision you’re not on board with. That’s why a lot of people quit the 9-5 grind.

At the end of the day, you need to answer the following questions.

  • Do you believe in the company’s vision?
  • Has the CEO fully communicated what the overall mission and long-term focus is?
  • Is this something you could get behind because it could benefits millions of people?
  • Could you use this product or service? Would you truthfully recommend it?
  • Do they have a proven customer base and have demonstrated revenues?
  1. What stage are they in? 

This is a no-brainer, but it’s important to understand where they are in their evolutionary startup lifespan. If they are an early stage company with no budget and no proven track record yet, the runway might be short. However, if they have reoccurring revenues and a customer base to build off you, you’ll be in the sweet spot to learn a lot as well as be a part of its scaling process – not to mention how it’s less risky by nature.

  1. Have they shown fast growth? 

This is where your external research will come in handy. Tech blogs, publications, and look at a list of fast growing companies will help supplement this area. You can even out right ask them what kinds of growth they’ve seen over the past while to determine if this is in an area that will allow some leeway for future growth.

“You need to know the industry well enough to see whether this startup is in a business that is likely to keep growing.”

  1. Who is their target demographic?

This is a crucial aspect that often gets overlooked. Startups have created a business plan that is focused at solving the pain points of a specific demographic or target audience. Ask yourself if this is something you can add value to, whether it be through experience or general interest.

  1. What is the path to profit? 

Will they IPO? What is the exit strategy? Obviously it won’t be easy to get this type of information from them in an interview, but if an offer has been made then it’s important to get a clear gauge on this. You can also get a clearer picture by figuring out their growth and what stage they’re in.

  1. What are the parameters of your role?

Folks with entrepreneurial experience are in greater demand as larger companies are always trying to embody this mindset on an enterprise wide scale. You may be wearing many different hats in a smaller environment, so it’s important to know what your core responsibilities are and if they fit into your career puzzle.

Try asking these three questions to help uncover what this role will be like in your overall career progression.

  • What would success in this job look like?
  • Where would it lead?
  • What will I need to demonstrate in order to get more responsibility?

With all that being said, do you see your personality meshing with this team and overall vision? Your deliverables will be magnified within the structure of a smaller workplace.

"So it’s important to consider, are you good at spotting opportunities and seizing the initiative to get things done?” Not everyone is comfortable with that, so be honest with yourself.” - Asim Razzaq, head of engineering, Axcient, formerly at eBay.

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