Chris Aukland is the managing director of specialist recruitment agency Ambition and is responsible for the growth and management of the Hong Kong business. He has 15 years’ consulting experience in the UK and Asia.
Should I swap stability for a start-up?
After a decade at a large tech firm, I feel stuck in a rut and am looking for more. But there are few positions on offer at the same senior level at other big firms. I’ve been approached by start-ups but I’m a bit wary as to where they may end up. They’re offering a similar package and promising more power and freedom and I’m tempted to take the plunge. Should I?
This is a very interesting question and very topical given the abundance of tech start-ups appearing in Hong Kong at present. It would be easy to give you a very short answer to this question, but with such an important decision you need to weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision based on your career aspirations, personal circumstances, financial situation, risk appetite and what you really enjoy doing.
First, going to work for any start-up business is clearly riskier than joining a large company and statistics show more start-ups fail than succeed. However, joining a start-up can often be hugely exciting and provide you with a whole new set of skills and experiences. Who knows – perhaps you may well be working at the next Google or Facebook.
Having met and spoken to a large number of professionals over the years who have made the transition to a start-up environment, I can say that those working at successful ones usually quote it as the best decision they ever made. They often say they can make a greater impact, learn a lot faster, take on responsibility quicker and work in a higher-paced, dynamic, less political, fun environment.
Obviously if you join at a senior management level where your financial rewards are directly related to the success of the company, there can also be a considerable upside financially if the business does well. Often when I meet individuals who worked at start-ups that were not successful, they point to the experience as hugely beneficial due to the acquired skills and experience.
However, when you are looking at joining a start-up, it is equally important to consider the risks. I would recommend finding out who is funding the business and whether the cash be taken away at the whim of the owner. Also, check out the financial situation of the company and how much money they have in the bank (i.e. can they pay your salary?). If the funding is from venture capitalists, find out whether they have a track record of backing successful start-ups, as this may put your mind at ease.
You should also evaluate what stage of the business cycle the start-up is at. “Start-up” can mean two friends working in a garage. It could also be a small business in its infancy that already has solid revenues and an established product or service with a strong customer base.
One thing you need to be 100 per cent honest with yourself about is whether you will be happy going from managing a large team with a well-developed support system to a more “hands on” role. At a start-up, there is often no budget for support staff and you may find yourself emptying your own bins, typing up your own notes and making your own coffee! Depending on your current role this can be a culture shock and some people struggle to adapt, so it’s important you understand what you enjoy doing.
Make sure you are comfortable and happy working with the people. In a small business, you need to get on with everyone and at a start-up, hierarchy, tenure and experience go out of the window. Start-ups cannot afford to carry passengers, so making a quick impact is important. However, also be aware that unlike large corporations, you will often define your own role and work in a completely unstructured environment.
In summary, there are always risks in any move to a start-up. It’s challenging and hard work, but if you have researched the opportunity and company, can accept the risks and the challenges, and are sure it is right for you then it can be a great career move.
I would never advise having the mindset of “what if it doesn’t go well?” as you need to be 100 per cent committed to making it a success. The good news is that if you have a strong career with large organisations on your resume, then a stint in a start-up could actually help your career, should you decide to move back to a corporation in the future.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Should I swap stability for a start-up?