If you’ve read my previous post, Not a respectable career choice, on how fresh engineering graduates feel about joining startups at the entry-point of their careers, you would have realised that startups are not a priority choice for fresh graduates – engineering or otherwise. This presents a tough situation for startups as, in most cases, startup enterprises neither have corporate reputations to speak of, nor are able to pay high salaries to attract experienced industry executives. So, they have no choice but to fall back on hiring fresh graduates, or others trained in specific vocational skills.
Like all businesses, large and small, most startups feel it’s essential to have a good team to execute a project or run their businesses. They may not have large funds at their disposal, but they know that if the team isn’t right, then it’s bad for the business. Things don’t, and won’t, work well. During my meetings with entrepreneurs across India, I discovered insights which I feel are worth sharing here – if only to pass on wisdom to other would-be entrepreneurs, or perhaps graduates who may change their minds and consider joining startups after reading this blog post.
Owners of startup ventures are no different from CEOs in large businesses in believing that quality is important. Perhaps one difference is that they cannot risk hiring three persons to do a job if one right person can do the job efficiently. So, startups automatically tend to look for and hire efficient people… at least, from the lot that comes knocking on their doors. Of course, startups face a serious problem: most hires don’t stay long. Most startup employees leave when they get better jobs. Which happens all the time! Retaining people is a serious challenge for startups.
One way to solve this problem is to keep looking for people until the right ones come along. That’s, of course, time consuming. Another way is to identify people from universities, colleges and vocational training institutes and offer jobs to the right ones – or the ones who would consider startups as career options. One entrepreneur told me that he was a faculty member in an engineering college, and while teaching and working with students, he would identify the right students and ask them if they’d like to work with him. Some have joined him. Others have provided references to prospective hires. Many startups hire their teams through references.
What kind of a mindset and maturity does the entrepreneur need to have to identify and hire the right people? Well, seldom do startups hire by the hundreds. They hire fewer people based on their projects and needs. An engineering startup, for instance, may work on a core technology or a niche business area and have a smaller core team who remain stable for a while. A core team cannot be replaced frequently, so retaining the core team members is a priority for startups. Startup salaries, though on the lower side compared to industry standards, are normally based exclusively on merit. The better a team member performs, the more money he or she earns.
Therefore, the mindset of the person who joins a startup, as a fresh graduate or someone leaving behind other job offers in bigger companies, is somewhat different. And, that’s what owners of startup ventures need to check thoroughly during job interviews. They have to identify and select the right candidate in first few minutes… before getting into the technical questions.
Those who join startups are entrepreneurs themselves. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks. So, joining a startup means these persons are mini-entrepreneurs themselves… that they take a known risk on joining a startup. That they know that the job is not scalable; that they can get better salaries elsewhere; that they can lose their jobs at any moment… if funds run dry. Knowing all this, if these persons are still willing to join a startup, they are considered to possess an entrepreneurial mind and are, most likely, the right kind of people for startups.
In turn, they get trained heavily and are enriched in knowledge. This craving for knowledge in lieu of better salaries offered by large companies and the chances of a better life and lifestyle that come with better pays and stable jobs is what drives people who chose startups over others. Apart from this, they have the mindset to get things done on their own… above and beyond their job description. Because they feel that the product they create is their product, not the product of the company they work for. They have a high level of motivation to get things done on their own.
So, they choose more of an adventurer’s life than a more-settled life. They choose a high-risk high-reward option as against a low-risk low-reward option in a larger company.