Startup Success: 5 tips for career professionals

Despite being in a downturn, tech startup firms and in other industries remain a desirable landing spot for both talent seeking to make a difference and companies eyeing growth.

And while there may be some trepidation in making a move during an uncertain time, this may actually be the ideal time, for candidate or company, says Mike Lee, founder of Peregrine Talent, a Washington state-based boutique recruiting firm that also offers coaching and training for individuals and pre-seed through Fortune 25 businesses.

“Some may doubt that, but when you’re in a funk, there’s nowhere to go but up,” says Lee, an industry veteran of 23 years with many of those spent in early-stage startups in tech. “Small companies, especially if well-funded with a good product idea, have a much better chance of growth and success.”

If startups are your professional jam and you’re looking for a good fit, here are a few ideas to keep top of mind.

Know the investor
Being very familiar with a startup’s investor will give you a good idea of the company’s stability out of the gate. If you are looking at a company in biotech or the health tech space, for example, Lee vouches for a leading investor like Menlo Ventures, which specializes in these areas. In SaaS, Software as a Service, an investor like Fuse VC that specializes in this space is a good sign. “Look at the investment focus of the firm and if it aligns with the company’s focus, then it tends to be in a very strong space,” Lee says.

Know the runway
Determining how long a company can stay in business – aka the runway – is an indication of security. This information is based on the amount of money it has in the bank plus revenue coming in based on its current growth plan, not current size. The only way to find out is to ask. “They won’t give you a dollar amount, but they should be willing to give you the number of months or years of runway,” Lee says.

Alignment check
Researching whether your own subject matter and experience aligns with that of the company founders is a key proactive step. “For a SaaS startup focused on finance services, candidates who don’t have a finance services background will struggle to find jobs in this company,” Lee says.

Also, for example, if the position requires someone who is a quick study and you are unable to provide an example of your previous work that demonstrates that, it could be a sign that your strengths or competency may not be a fit. “It’s best to leverage the knowledge you possess,” Lee says.

Get clarity on deliverables
A crystal clear understanding of what the company expects from you is most helpful right from the start rather than down the road when you could be buried under lofty expectations. For example, if you are vying for a sales position, do you have a quota? Are you expected to land a certain number of new customers or are there big named accounts they want you to close? Or, if you are part of an innovation department, are there two or three things that you are expected to create over the next year?

This advice is also applicable to employers. “A lot of companies aren’t good at communicating what the role is,” Lee says. “If a company can’t explain very clearly what they need from that person, they are not going to close the top talent.”

Avoid the checklist
Just because a company and job description checks all your boxes that doesn’t mean you are made for each other. Getting clarity on deliverables or competency alignment are examples of what are not on a typical checklist because it’s a subject not often adequately addressed by company or candidate. However, these are crucial factors that help determine your success – or not – with the employer. “The daily checklist is a false thing to look at,” Lee says. “Everybody wants the offer, but not everybody wants to do the job.”

The bottom line
Doing the research, being honest with yourself and bold, even selfish, during the interview process will go a long way in helping you obtain the startup job you want and – be successful at it.

Georgann Yara is a journalist based in Phoenix. Find her on X @georgannyara and Threads @georganny.

Photo by fauxels

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