The older we get, the more conscious we become that we can’t get our time back. Given that, we're always curious as to why too many of the potential candidates we contact shy away from opportunities because they seem too “risky.” Most of these opportunities have a very small window of opportunity. You owe it to yourself to at least work at one startup, so when you’re looking back at the end of your career, there are no regrets.
The reality is that all great companies were once startups. The founders weren’t risk-averse. They thrived on the possibility of great success. We would bet that, with the benefit of hindsight, you would certainly have loved to been called for an early role at companies such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Here are some basic thoughts on how to mitigate and assess risk while evaluating an opportunity to join an early-stage deal:
The Unique Selling Proposition
This is a tricky one to assess for startups, because a lot of time they’ll be entering into nascent markets. You probably don’t have the luxury of leveraging data that’s already covered by analysts such as Gartner or IDC. Therefore, what we look at is: who’s backing the company? First-quartile Venture Capital firms such as Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Benchmark Capital, Accel Partners and Greylock have incredible track records of betting on up-and-coming companies, so as a candidate you can take advantage of all the diligence that these elite firms have done prior to placing their bet on a given startup.
Your Role On The Team
As a candidate, we'd be looking at whether or not an executive management team has the ability to get things done. Where have they been successful in the past? Where will we fit in, and what will our “position” on the team be?
One example is with one of our clients, Zuora. The Co-Founder and CEO, Tien Tzuo, is very strong academically—but beyond that he’d been an early executive at Saleforce.com, where he was the first CMO, working side-by-side with Marc Benioff. Tien had witnessed the explosive growth of Salesforce.com, growing from a small company into a large, public one. And as he built out his executive team at Zuora, he put in place other veterans who had proven, past successes.
Refuse To Be Average
Believe in yourself; trust that you’ll make a big impact in your new role. You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen or Mark Hopkins to make a difference at a startup. You probably have the same skills and knowledge, if not more than most of the folks who’ve thrown caution into the wind and joined a startup, so why not you? Work will take up a lot of your life, so don’t waste your time settling for mediocrity.