Adam Johnston is managing director of Robert Half Hong Kong.
I have an exciting job offer at a start-up but is the uncertainty worth the risk?
A former colleague in a big accountancy firm, who is also a friend, has started up his own fintech business. He has invited me to join as the chief financial officer.
The salary is lower than what I currently enjoy but there are potentially lucrative stock options offered, and, of course, the opportunity to help build the company. I am tempted to go for the job but I have some worries about the uncertainty. Do you think it is worth leaving the stability of my current job?
This sounds like an exciting opportunity yet it’s definitely worth weighing your options. Many financial professionals prefer the security of working for a more established organisation. But to others, joining a start-up and building a company from the ground up is an enticing prospect.
Many start-ups are laser-focused on building their product or service, and sometimes fail to raise enough capital and they have more cash flow issues than more established companies. However, if you join a start-up in its earliest phases, and the company takes off, you could benefit financially. Professionals who work for successful start-ups often enjoy accelerated professional growth, an attractive salary, generous bonuses, profit sharing and other compelling incentives.
The potential rewards are even greater if you own stock. If the business has a successful IPO – or is acquired by another company – the financial upside you experience could be sizable, depending on your stake in the business.
Another risk to consider – many start-ups fail, so make sure to keep your résumé handy and the contacts in your professional network close at hand just in case things don’t turn out the way you hope. Yet, as a chief financial officer at a start-up, you’ll gain a wealth of wide-ranging, hands-on experience. So even if your friend’s company doesn’t take off, the experience you gain will make you highly marketable and attractive to other companies – benefiting your long-term career.
Another consideration is the working hours with start-ups will almost always be long. However, working conditions can also be more relaxed, and you may be more likely to be able to set your own schedule and have the option to work from home.
And, to your point, the salary isn’t great, probably because the company is sinking all their revenue into product development or marketing. You may have to settle for being paid in stock or a combination of salary and stock.
While there are certainly risks involved in working for a start-up, helping to build a business from the ground up is an extraordinary career-building adventure for any financial professional.
If you’re not yet prepared to commit to a journey filled with uncertain outcomes, consider working for the company as a consultant. Start-ups are often in great need of skilled financial talent – including interim CFOs and other senior executives – to help them build up the business from the ground.