Like many others, you may dream of starting your own business or being part of the growth of the next Apple or Google success story. But founding or working at a start-up is not for everyone. Is it for you?
Those working at a start-up company say it can be a rollercoaster ride of exciting highs and depressing lows. A start-up is likely to have a different culture to more mature organisations, pay you less at first and offer you less job security.
Indeed, start-ups typically employ few people, have limited resources, suffer low brand recognition and face an unclear future. Many more will fail than succeed.
Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera both believe that co-founding OpenAgent, a successful start-up bringing more transparency to property sales through a new rating system of real estate agents, has been the hardest job they’ve ever had. They didn’t earn a salary in the first year and faced plenty of uncertainties. “The reality for a founder is that there are many challenges and there are a lot of people relying on you,” says Pointon. “Probably the toughest thing is managing your own mindset, because there will absolutely be downs that feel very low. That can be when you have made a mistake, when your company hasn't lived up to what you are trying to do, when people don't believe in you or see your vision, when it looks like you won't get funded, or when you have to make difficult calls or tough people decisions.”
“It’s 24/7 and all consuming,” continues Higuera. “We say it how it is. There’s no politics or sugar coating here. And we make things happen – fast!”
Indeed, the sheer amount of output surprised Jorden Minos, OpenAgent’s head of commercial operations, when he joined a few months ago after years of working in the banking industry.
“In my first week, we were inducting new staff, moving the whole office and launching multiple new products,” he says.
That speed of action is not for everyone. So what type of person do you need to be to flourish this type of start-up environment?
Of course, each person is different and will bring something different to table. Nonetheless, here are some of the common traits needed.
“Generally speaking, it will help if you can adapt to change as the business evolves, grows and pivots,” says Minos.
He also advises being sure the start-up has the right product or services, team and growth opportunities for you.
According to Johanna Seton, OpenAgent’s head of product and growth, anyone wanting a traditional 9 to 5 hands-off role shouldn’t apply. “You need to be prepared to operate out of your comfort zone,” adds Seton, who worked for at another start-up, hipages.com.au, for nearly eight years before joining OpenAgent. “Being in a start-up will always throw new challenges at you and you will have to solve them with no experience in that area. You will often be out of your depth and learning new things on the fly.” She also warns that you can’t be too fixed on what your role entails and must be prepared to do whatever is expected of you at the time.
Pointon agrees, noting: “You really need to want to be hands-on. We don't have space in our team for layers of management, so everyone has to be prepared to be incredibly action-oriented and willing to get in there and do unglamorous tasks. This doesn't suit everyone, especially people who are used to having a lot of leverage or a large team or a large budget.”
She believes that someone joining a start-up also needs to love change and learning new skills. “You can’t be afraid to do things you've never done before. And you have to back yourself as you figure it out as you go. If you dislike uncertainty, then start-up life is going to be hard. If you like adventure and hate things always being predictable or the same, then you might enjoy it.”
To thrive, you’ll probably need to have some patience. “Everything takes so much longer than you could ever imagine,” says Pointon.
Higuera adds that you will also need to be a self-starter and very hands on. “No job should be too small or too large for you,” she says. “And if you don't love change and learning new things and being out of your comfort zone, don't do it.”
Having worked at two insurance start-ups that have grown significantly over the years – OpenAgent’s head of marketing Anne Grobler says there’s no place in a start-up for prima donnas, people with big egos or who can’t get their hands dirty and do everything.
“People that will thrive in a start-up include those that can welcome critique and disagreement – that’s what will drive a start-up company to a better place – and those with a can-do attitude,” she says.
But there are plenty of rewards too. “I've found is that people enjoy work a lot more. They want to be there, it doesn't quite feel like work: more like you are on a crazy ride where we are all growing and learning and winning,” says Pointon.