Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Learn What a Recruiter Really Thinks About the Startup Experience

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 3

The choice of company is the biggest single determinant of one’s work experience.  This is particularly true in start up companies.  In this post, I’ll share the “startup experience” from the perspective of “Jillian,” a recruiter for high tech companies.

“People go to work [for a start-up] sold on the idea that is will change the world, to better mankind in some fundamental way.  In return, they give over the vast majority of their waking time. It’s not uncommon to work 60-80 hrs.  It is assumed that on weekends people will be working.  Which means that people are sacrificing a tremendous amount of their personal life in terms of family relationships.  If you’re in that kind of scenario, there isn’t much room to do much except work, sleep, and occasionally eat. 

They often sacrifice compensation, in that they take a pay cut to get into a company where they are given a big equity state.  In my 30 years of recruiting, the companies that have actually gone public where the [workers] actually made any money,  I can count on one hand, probably even less.    

Some of these companies get acquired. [Many] of the people who made the technology attractive to the buyer are let go and laid off.  [The remainder] end up working for the bigger company with none of the sense of being the bigger fish in the little pond.  

[Other] companies don’t wind up being able to make a producible product because the marketing people oversell and the VC people pull the plug.  These people who have gone through this major sacrifice are literally left with nothing, yet I see people doing this over and over again. 

Psychologically speaking, it’s extraordinarily attractive to be a part of this cutting edge technology, [thinking] if you try your hardest, you can make it happen.  It’s communicated and bought into all the way down the line, including the secretaries, the people who clean the office.  Even those people see that it’s extraordinarily rare that the company will succeed and get this big payoff. 

I think many people stay away from startups because they don’t want to make this kind of personal trade off.   What is your experience?  Is Jillian’s perspective representative, and does it have to be that way?

In the next post, we’ll return to the story of Harry T. Lobo, the Wolf CEO from Chapter 4.  What happens when a person of high integrity is confronted by a toxic culture?

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  1. Greg Marcus says

    While I’ve never worked for a startup, I’ve worked at small companies on companies that were destined for new markets. I like the “we’re all in this together” mentality. The innovation and stimulation was incredible. If I had it to do over again, I think I could have had the same impact while working many fewer hours.