There’s a new type of employer in town: The high-potential fast-growing start-up business. It is not your typical SME and also not someone’s ‘biashara’. They might be committed to finding a business answer to a social cause by finding innovative solutions for low-income populations, others make life more comfortable and fun for the growing middle and upper class. Key sectors where these innovators play include Financial Services, Education, Health, Water and Sanitation, Clean Energy, Agri Innovation, Transport, among others.
There are many perks of working in this space i.e. the purposeful work, the casual dressing, and ‘room for rapid growth’, but there are important factors you should keep in mind before you send that job application. This article explores what makes start-up jobs attractive and to who, tackles some common misperceptions, and will offer food for thought as to why you may or may not want to work in this space.
- Career Growth: When working in a start-up, you can hugely contribute to the growth and the success of the company with your role. You can be a part of strategic conversations, bringing and directly handling key clients and partnerships, important decision-making, and even taking on leadership opportunities. Your position can accelerate fast in a small and growing company.
- Purpose: Start-ups are particularly attractive when you are entry-level, as you will take on a lot more responsibilities than in many other entry-level jobs in larger firms (you know, making coffee and filing papers, yawn!). This helps you build valuable skills.
- Exposure: You are likely to be in an open work environment where your boss can be your mentor. The CEO and other highly experienced individuals will be more accessible to you than if you worked for a big company. You can use this chance to learn from them and gain as much expert knowledge as you can.
- Flexibility: You work in an untraditional work environment void of hierarchy, and with fewer office rules such as dress codes; your creativity and your individuality are encouraged.
- Community: There is often a strong sense of teamwork and ‘being together in it’ in a small company that is trying to achieve ambitious targets. As you will be working with a small team, you will develop strong relationships with them.
- Entrepreneurial Journey: You will learn what it takes to build an organization from the ground up. This especially beneficial if you aspire to run your own start-up one day. You can learn from the start-up’s failures and successes and apply what you have learned in your own business one day.
What to Consider
- Most start-ups pay in a different currency than you are used to from other jobs. Do you calculate your benefits mostly in Shillings? A start-up offers benefits in currencies of exposure, fulfilment, growth and a humane culture (and possibly Employee Stock Options, but as the saying goes, 1% of zero is zero). So consider how important pension, health cover and allowances are to you.
- If you’re not used to working in a company that is constantly changing, then you may find yourself getting frustrated in a start-up. Things that might change are job titles, roles and responsibilities, product, pricing and market approach, office location, and the team itself. If you enjoy change, embrace uncertainty, can deal with chaos, and can deliver results in a space with few structures provided, then you are likely to be successful in a start-up environment.
- It will be all hands on deck in a start-up environment, and if you don’t have a ‘can do attitude’, you might be left behind. You will have to undertake tasks that you may think aren’t ‘part of your job description’. You will have to take on a range of responsibilities which are new, challenging, and sometimes mundane but you have to be willing and flexible to do them.
- In addition to the above, the work-life balance can be tenuous. You will find yourself sacrificing a lot of your personal time and you have to be willing to put the company and the clients first. This means that you will put in more hours, work from home, and put your weekends on the line. There are never enough hours in a day and you will have to be more efficient with your time, multi-task and work fast. If there’s a project deadline, for example, you will have to do all you can to make sure this deadline is met. If you prefer having time to yourself, or if you have personal projects outside of work, think twice. Start-ups have a high-stress environment where emotions run high as there’s a lot riding on the start-up’s success. If you’re worried about the state of your mental health when it comes to work pressure, then be careful and ask questions about expectations of the role before you’re on board.
- Start-up founders have brilliant ideas and secure money to start their venture. But this alone does not make them great business leaders and team mentors. In some cases, a lack of strong leadership, professionalism and management skills may affect your job security and satisfaction. If you’re able to lead yourself, manage upwards effectively and engage your peers in building an effective office culture, then you’ll thrive here.
- Assess the risks. The company can flourish and be very successful, or it can crash and burn. Think through your job security by being informed and conscious of the company’s potential future performance: Research the industry and market opportunity the company wants to tap into, ask leadership how they measure their success and ask details about their financial situation and runway. After putting in all your hard work, time, and energy you don’t want to be surprised when you longer have your job. You can’t always predict this outcome, but there are ways you can prepare so that you’re not caught off-guard when things go downhill. Be prudent about your own financial management, and start saving just in case things don’t work out and you find yourself back into job-hunting.
Want to learn more about the start-up movement?
- Events are a great way to learn more and feel the vibe of innovators and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship spaces like Nairobi Garage, Metta, iHub, The Kijiji, and others host regular meet-ups, training and experience sharing sessions by entrepreneurs
- Read up about the most promising businesses and start-ups.
- Go through websites of incubators, accelerators, start-up and venture capital funds and impact investors around East Africa, which often provide a list of companies they’ve accelerated or invested in on their website.
If you thrive in the unpredictability of a day and lack of routines, then perhaps working in a small and dynamic company is suited to your personality and working style. Even though you may not have job security and a clear career path ahead, for some people this is the only place they can imagine working!
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Has this article convinced you that a career in the start-up space is for you? Then check out our exciting Jobs with Our Clients.