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5 must-ask questions before joining a start-up!

According to the InvestHK StartmeupHK survey ( Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem has rocketed in the last few years. Given the abundance of start-ups appearing in Hong Kong, there are increasing career opportunities to join a start-up business.


As ever, when considering important career decisions, you need to weigh up to the pros and cons and make a decision based on your career aspirations, what you really enjoy doing, personal circumstances, financial situation and your risk appetite! Firstly, clearly going to work for any start-up business is higher risk than joining a large corporate and it is widely known statistic that more start-ups fail than succeed. However, often joining a start-up can be hugely exciting and can provide you with a whole new set of skills and experiences. In addition, who know – 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 either founded their own business or made the transition into a start-up environment, I can say that for those working at a successful start-up they often quote it as being the best decision they ever made. Often people point to an ability to make a greater impact, learn a lot faster, take on more responsibility quicker and working in a much more high paced, dynamic, less political, fun environment. Obviously, if you are the owner or join at a senior management positions where your financial rewards are directly related to the success of the company there can also be considerable more upside financially (if the business does well!). Often when I have met individuals who have worked at starts up that were not successful they also point to the experience as hugely beneficial due to the acquired skills, experience.

Joining a start-up can be hugely exciting and can provide you with a whole new set of skills and experiences

However, when you are looking at joining a start-up it is also equally important to consider the risks. The 5 must ask questions to ask yourself in my opinion should be:    

  1. Who is funding the business? I would recommend always finding out who is funding the business and can it be taken away on the whim of the owner.  Also, check out the financial situation of the company and how much Cash do they have in the bank (i.e. Can they pay your salary!) If the funding is coming from venture capitalists, then also find out if they have track record of backing successful start-ups as this can often much your mind at rest.

  2. What stage of the business cycle is the start up in? A” start-up’ can mean two good friends working out of their garage but can also mean a small business in its early infancy that already has solid revenues and an established product /service with a strong customer base.

  3. Are you happy to be hands on? You have to be 100% honest with yourself on this question. Are you really going to happy going from managing a large team and having a well-developed support system around you into a much 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 bit of culture shock and some people struggle to adapt so it is therefore very important you are honest with yourself about what you enjoy doing.

  4. Are you happy working with the boss and the team? Make sure you are comfortable and happy working with the individuals in the business. In a smaller business you need to get on with everyone and at a start-up, hierarchy and tenure/experience go out of the window!

  5. Can you add value quickly? In a start-up environment, you need to prove yourself quickly and start-ups cannot afford to carry passengers so making a quick impact is important.  If you cannot see how you can make an impact then it is probably not the right fit.  However also be aware that unlike in a large corporate, you will often define your own role and work in a completely unstructured environment.

In summary, there are always risks in any move into a start-up which you need to take into account. Working at a start-up is challenging and hard work but if you have researched the opportunity and company, are willing to accept the risks and the challenges and are sure it is right for you then it is a great career move! 

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