Career advice

10 reasons to work in someone else’s startup


If you’ve never worked in a startup business you don’t know what you’re missing.  It really is the most fun you could ever have at work – even when they don’t become the next Groupon (let’s face it – any of us that have been around for a while have all got drawers full of old share option certificates from the companies we believed to be “dead certs”).  However, if you’re not yet quite ready or equipped to start your own business, working in someone else’s startup can be a marvellous stopgap solution and one that brings all sorts of opportunity.  These are my top 10 reasons why:

1.       Whatever you do, your startup job will have more scope simply because there are fewer people in the company and everyone is required to work beyond their comfort zones – that adds more strings to your bow & improves your confidence;

2.       Your working day will be far more varied than if you worked in a bigger or more established company and there’s bags more opportunity to move sideways into something else if you find you fancy it;

3.       If you’re talented and hard working, you can move up fast & make yourself indispensable far easier than in a different sort of organisation; no-one cares about your age or gender or even experience – it’s what you can do today that matters;

4.       Startup teams are really special – the bond between team members is unusually strong (probably because we all have so much at stake & let’s face it – there’s usually nothing else – no customers, no product, no money – so the team is EVERYTHING) and it’s a unique experience; when I think back to the startups I’ve worked in the teams have all been pure gold (Learning Pool’s Team Lovely pictured, snapped at our May 2010 conference by the rather wonderful Paul Clarke);

5.       Visibility – you can have access to the CEO’s big picture vision if you want it (if you’re not interested in what that is, you probably shouldn’t be there);

6.       You can learn so much so fast at someone else’s expense & with no financial risk to yourself – I remember the dizzy learning curve of my first startup dalliance – but even more I remember the exhilaration;

7.       Potential long term risk-free financial upside in your share options – if you work in someone else’s startup & don’t have options ask them why;

8.       The environment is extremely challenging & it helps you find out stuff about yourself as you become more resilient;

9.       There’s a chance that this might just be THE ONE – the next Google or Amazon;

10.   It’s serious fun – those roller coaster highs sure are high & we celebrate every success (sometimes even a little too much); you never know what’s around the corner.

Sounds good so far – sounds like you might enjoy this.  If you’re going for it, it’s only fair for me to give you the other side of the coin – which I’m going to call:

5 team member behaviours that really p*** the startup CEO off – and in my book they are:

1.       Whining – either to me or your colleagues about (delete as necessary) long working hours/not enough time to get stuff done properly/the spec is too loose/the working environment is too transparent/my salary is too low/the goalposts keep moving/etc);

2.       Not being customer focused enough – unforgivable in a startup;

3.       Wasting money – booking travel late, forgetting to cancel subscriptions, not parking in the cheapest car park at the airport, not asking for a discount on absolutely everything we buy as a matter of course, nor getting the most out of every minute of the day;

4.       Not thinking about stuff – inexcusable & I don’t want to hear your excuses;

5.       Not being a team player – peddling your own agenda, bitching about a colleague, not carrying your fair share – unacceptable – we’re all in this together & see above – the team is everything.  If you don’t believe this you need to get out & let the rest of us get on.

As always – I hope you enjoyed this blog & I look forward to your comments or questions – some of you will no doubt have different views & stories from your own start-ups which the rest of us hope you will share.


New Year new job…


Everyone’s always a bit tight for cash in January – maybe this year even more than others – but what are the factors that govern what you actually get paid or are worth?  We were talking about this topic in the office yesterday so I thought I’d throw it up in a quick blog to perhaps start a conversation & in case it helps anyone who’s changing job in the New Year or thinking about doing so.

I’m not going to be able to help you negotiate a better salary and this isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive list or a lesson in regional economics – I’m just going to give you some pointers so that you’re more aware that there’s a bit of science to this & to say that sometimes it’s worth asking a few questions or chancing your arm.  My rules also apply more to start-ups or small businesses than they do to giant dinosaur companies – yawn – but if you’re reading my blog you probably aren’t that interested in working for one of them anyway.

1.       First up is what I call the scarcity factor – there’s a market rate for what you do in the geographical area where the job is based and it’s fairly easy to determine.  Some skillsets are like hen’s teeth right now & those people can therefore charge a premium – which is as annoying as hell for employers.  Like all commodities that are subject to market forces, these peaks & troughs do eventually go away as people retrain as something else or as more of the scarce resource moves to the area attracted by the higher pay scales.  Unsure what happens at that point to those that have been charging a premium but looking forward to finding out…  London & Dublin have traditionally paid more than the rest of the UK & Ireland – comes as a bit of a shock to people when they want to move somewhere else.

2.       How the recruitment happened is also a factor – if you’ve come to us through a recruitment agency or we’ve placed a newspaper ad, that’s likely to have cost us between £1,500 & £5k.  If you’ve come to us via word of mouth or in response to ads on our website, we’ll be more inclined to err on the generous side with you.  So – if you’re looking for a job do a bit of work & approach your chosen target companies before you sign up with a recruiter – you’d probably be surprised by the number of people that end up getting employed this way, especially by small companies who really resent paying recruiters.  It also shows initiative on your part.  You’d also be surprised by the number of people we already know that are sent to us by recruiters – sigh!

3.       What the rest of the “tribe” gets paid is a factor – for example, if the maximum day rate paid to anyone by the company is £300 – you’re unlikely to get £500 no matter how great you might be.  Also – if there’s a team already in place, paying you any more than them seriously upsets the apple cart.  Sensible employers realise that their people all talk to each other & in terms of remuneration packages – you might as well post them up on the wall.  Everyone knows what everyone else gets paid so it makes sense to have a fair & transparent system in place that you can stand over and then stick to it.  How much experience a person has does have some bearing on where on that team scale they start.  However, once they’ve started work future payrises will depend on a whole different set of factors.

4.       Other benefits – sometimes you might be lucky enough to be offered share options in return for a market rate or lower than market rate salary.  If you believe the company has a chance, then grab it with both hands & offset a miserly short term gain for who knows what in the longer term when the glorious exit comes.  If you don’t understand how share options work – then go & find out.

5.       Sometimes with a new employee companies try & offset some of the risk they’re incurring by linking part of the newbie’s overall package to a performance based bonus.  My take on this is that people who are up for the challenge know they are as good as their word, take the offer & will probably come up trumps.  Anyone that shies away from an offer like this because they want more “security” makes me believe they won’t deliver & I question if they should be in a small business anyway.

6.       Anyone that sells for a living gets commission on top of their basic salary.  Their basic will generally be much lower than their peers in other disciplines but they should earn more money than anyone else in the company including the directors.  Everyone else needs to either get over that or learn how to sell.  If you work in sales & your commission is low – you are a mug & should look for another job.

7.       Once you start work at a new company, how indispensable you become may in some way influence how much you earn over time.  No one is indispensable but some people are far more desirable to keep – this may have nothing to do with their job role – this topic is for another blog…

8.       Finally I’m afraid there’s an element of companies paying what they can get away with – if you’re being seriously considered for a £30k per year job & you currently earn £18k for whatever reason, expect them to offer you less money as a starting salary.  Linked to this you’re likely to get a better opening offer if you’re already working – expect to be lowballed if you’re out of work & have been for some time.

Couple of pieces of advice to finish.  Always negotiate (politely) when you’re offered a job.  People think you’re an idiot if you don’t at least try.  Women find this harder to do than men – that’s a fact of life – it isn’t me being sexist.  Second one – don’t lose out on a great job over a couple of grand.  Great jobs in great companies are few & far between & if you’re offered one – you sometimes need to be prepared to make some sacrifices because you spend a big slice of your life at work.

Interested in your comments as always.


Dr Dennis Kimbro & his views on recruitment


Talent management in local government (or the apparent lack of it and the complete disinterest there seems to be in it) is something I spend a lot of time thinking about & a bit of time talking about so I was very pleased to be able to see Dr Dennis Kimbro speak at the PPMA conference in London last week on the topic of Building Effective Leaders for the Future.  Dr Kimbro is a lecturer in human potential & entrepreneurship at Clark Atlanta university and he writes books about notable achievers – talent recruitment, development & management is something he knows a thing or two about.

So here’s a brief summary of the main points I’ve taken away from his presentation.

In his research & interviews with 150+ notable African Americans, these are the 4 things that consistently make some people far more successful than most of us:

1.       They dream big

2.       They never listen to advice from friends & critics telling them the reasons why their idea will fail; they go with their own inner belief every time

3.       They dedicate themselves to lifelong learning (see slide on the photo above re what happens to you if you don’t!)

4.       They simply refuse to accept failure.

Food for thought indeed – I hope many of you see some of the above in yourselves. 

He had advice for the rest of us mere mortals as well – mainly around how to recruit good people into our teams – and these are the things you should consider when appraising your interviewees and in this order of priority:

1.       Do they have the right level of talent for the role? (education, intelligence, experience)

2.       How well will they fit with your existing team?

3.       Do they demonstrate the level of commitment to your team’s common purpose that you need?

And when you get them into the room – these are the 3 questions above all others that you should ask:

1.       Why do you want to work in this organisation?

2.       Tell me about yourself – what motivates you? – what are your talents, specialisms and areas of excellence?

3.       If we don’t offer you this job and you go somewhere else, what are we going to miss?

If your candidate can’t articulate their answers to the above, then you have a problem and should probably carry on looking. 

Dr Kimbro is a master of the business soundbite and here are a few of his priceless quotes:

·         Work is not a job, it’s an opportunity

·         The opposite of success is conformity

·         We need to want to make a difference, with others that want to make a difference, doing something that matters (I like this one a lot! – applies to every startup I’ve ever worked in)

·         Complacency is the first step to mediocrity

·         Stop complaining & focusing on the mundane

·         Monday should be a great day because you can’t wait to get to work! 

Dennis talked for an hour & I thought he was inspirational and wonderful.  I chatted to him afterwards & he was charming.  However, in a room with over 200 local government HR specialists I seemed to be very much in the minority.  Here’s some of what I heard later in the day from the HR professionals that are responsible for creating future managers and leaders for our councils:

·         He should have tailored his talk to the UK public sector

·         He was too passionate

·         None of that applies to us, it’s for the private sector

·         I’d heard it all before 

C’mon guys – if you want local government to be a vibrant place for people, especially young people joining the job market, to want to come & work, things really have to change & fast.  Dave Briggs     and I while away the hours we spend on roadtrips playing a game called “If I were a local authority chief exec I would…” and it’s always, always about people – no matter how many times we revisit it.