There’s a changing trend in the kind of people flocking to work with startups in India, these days. Says Varun Mayya, CEO of Jobspire, a company that has, for the last three years, been helping job seekers connect with startups looking to recruit, “Last year we saw a lot of people in their 20s and 30s at companies like MakeMyTrip, Snapdeal, etc. moving to smaller startups or starting out on their own. This year, we have a lot of employees from companies like Infosys applying to smaller startups on our platform.”
Indeed, studies revealed that while in 2015, senior employees were quitting their jobs at established corporates to work with startups, this year, startups are not to be the top choice for placement around several campuses.
This constant rise and fall in popularity of startup jobs raises important questions about the working conditions: what is it like to work for a startup and how does it need to evolve? What should one expect from the startup workplace?
We spoke to six youngsters working with startups of different sizes and scales, to find out:
Ekagra Tripathi, a Mumbai-based engineer who has worked with three different startups says, “People expect to come in by 9 am and leave by 5 pm but that doesn’t happen. I have worked weekends. I have also faced the problem of irregular salary cycles.”
Tripathi, who currently works at an e-commerce startup, says that such routines worked for him in the initial stages of his career. But four years down the line, things have changed. “[Irregularity] is still alright when you’re young. But as I grew older, I wanted structure, and more stability,” he shares.
According to Mayya, startups by definition are unstable. “Processes are not set, the next round might not come, key employees you look up to might quit, you might lose interest in the vision of the company and a tonne of other reasons. People think it’s easy to work in startup environment and the relaxed rules compared to a bigger company are a perk. But when your paycheck doesn’t come in or the product isn’t doing well everyone wants to jump ship,” he observes.
#Protip 1: Before joining a startup, make sure to clarify details such as work timings, pay scales and payment schedules, and workflow processes.
For Sonya Moorjani, who recently joined an eight-month-old digital advertising startup in Pune after a stint in a more established firm, the new work environment came with its own set of challenges. A major change that Moorjani has had to adjust with, in the new workplace, is the heavy workload. Working with a smaller team now, she says that dealing with client expectations is far more challenging, as well.
But there is an upside. “The work isn’t divided here. I get to handle everything. This gives me an excellent opportunity for growth. You’re handling six clients instead of one, so you learn a lot across the board,” says Moorjani, who was eager to take on the new challenges. But added responsibility and having an undefined role may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
#Protip 2: Get an idea about the scope of work during the hiring process, rather than basing it on the job description.
Uday Vir Singh, a young marketing professional from Delhi, worked with an MNC before quitting and joining a startup that provides solar power services. The biggest difference he has noted at his new workplace is comfortable internal communication because of which he is able to take his ideas and suggestions directly to the decision makers.
He says, “I can walk into my CEO’s office and float the idea for a potential strategic partnership, a gripe related to my colleagues, or even a silly technical question, and I come out feeling like I have been heard, no matter what the outcome may be.”
#Protip 3: If you work with a small startup team, you can use the opportunity to have your opinions heard and your ideas taken into consideration.
Anjali Menon*, who worked as a content writer with a digital marketing company in Bengaluru, had it tough. Her excitement on taking up a new job to get some hands-on experience was short-lived. “I think startups, in general, are great because some have great potential. But they need to have team leads who know what they’re doing,” shares Menon.
In a short span, her job became repetitive and dull. Despite having new clients, she found that there were no new approaches to handling the work commissioned. “When I realised that my work was becoming monotonous, I tried learning what the account managers were doing. I even requested them to teach me about their work. But this just resulted in me realising that they had no idea what they were doing either,” she says.
Menon’s experience is not uncommon. In many cases, startups do not offer the kind of personal growth that employees seek. Says Mayya, “Most startups don’t hire senior talent until it’s very late. The silver hair does come in handy. Processes are very reassuring for new employees, and they are best set by senior talent.”
For the employee, then, knowing the startup’s long- and short- term goals comes handy. A startup with clear-cut growth objectives stand a better chance of offering a work environment conducive to personal growth to employees.
#Protip 4: When the interviewer asks “Any questions?”, don’t hesitate to enquire about the startup’s vision, as well as processes and strategies to realise that vision.
Sharanya Narayanan, who has worked with two startup recruitment agencies in Bengaluru in the past, found challenges such as the high workload and lack of organisational hierarchy, engaging and educational. What she had a problem with, came from outside the workplace.
She says, “One faces a lot of criticism from relatives and peers for working in a startup. In India, the ultimate definition of ‘settling down’ is working for an MNC or a Fortune 500 company.” Like many of us, Sharanya is no stranger to pity and judgement for the choices she’s made. She says, “I have been told ‘I haven’t heard of your company’ and asked ‘Oh, why didn’t you get into a big company?'”
#Protip 5: If your family and friends are constantly judging you for working in a small company, know that you’re not alone. The key to overcoming such stress is to remember what the job is teaching you and how you will benefit from it, long-term.
Working with a startup has its own set of challenges, no doubt. However, this mixed bag of experiences proves that if you play your cards right, there’s a lot to take away from the experience of working in one. With the right role in a startup that has objectives in line with your own, the experience can be extremely satisfying and rewarding. What’s more, you can even end up associating with some great minds, take on several important roles and most importantly, give wings to your career.
*Name changed upon request.
Dear millennial, we want to hear your story. Tell us about YOUR career aspirations, the struggles and discriminatory practices you want changed, your expectations from your workplace, the skills mismatch and wage gaps, and your unique experiences in starting your own business. Start writing here (and don’t forget to include hashtag #FutureOfWork!)