There has been no better time in modern era to launch or join a technology startup. The cost of starting an Internet business, for instance, is now within reach; gone are the days when a huge amount of capital was needed to launch one.
In fact, launching a web product or service used to cost no less than $1 million but it can now be done with less than $25,000 in startup capital, an amount that founders can easily raise from savings, from family members, and from credit cards. Even when this amount of money can’t be secured, incubators and accelerators are now to the rescue.
If you’re not ready yet to launch your own startup, how about joining one? Is it job insecurity that is making you hesitate? Look at what happened to Nortel, and what is now happening to RIM, among others. The fact is that job security is something of the past.
One thing is sure, though: the amount of learning and experience you amass working for a startup is beyond what you can think is possible. In other words, even if you have no plans to launch your own startup, working for one will allow you to advance your career rather quickly. Not convinced? Then read on.
I graduated with a Master’s degree in telecommunications at the end of 1997. That same year marked the beginning of the boom of the wireless telecom industry. Within the next few years industry giants went on a hiring spree.
I obviously had the choice to apply to Nortel or to Newbridge Networks, two Ottawa-based giants at that time. I, instead, chose not to despite the fact that it was trendy at that time to work for these national icons. In fact, most of my classmates chose to follow the trendy path but I chose to join NexLink Communications, a small startup (I was employee number four) that was working on a wireless local loop modem, a novel product at the time.
I was hired as a Digital Signal Processor Engineer. That was my official job title. Within one year I pretty much worked on all aspects of the modem design process from simulating the algorithms to implementing a portion on a DSP while implementing the demanding ones on a Field Programmable Gate Array, a re-configurable chip. Working for a small company meant that I was forced to constantly come out of my comfort zone. While stressful and demanding I learned a lot from that experience.
The amount of learning I acquired from my first startup experience is something I never thought was possible. This experience prepared me to take a leading role at SpaceBridge Networks, another startup I joined a year later. While my role was mainly restricted to system design and simulation, I was allowed to go out of my comfort zone—for example, by contributing input to the hardware design specifications, something I would have never been allowed to do if I worked for a big company, given my one year of experience
My third job was with The MathWorks, an established and a successful software company based in Boston. I took the job because the position, Application Engineer, allowed me to improve my non-technical skills. Also, the company’s culture was close to that of a startup. Working for startups prepared me very well for this particular job: within a few months I was promoted to a senior position. Of course my salary and profit sharing went up considerably, as you can guess.
Five years after I accepted my first job the income I was making was more than 3.5x my initial salary. More important, the amount of knowledge I acquired while working for startups allowed me to be on par with those who had more than five years of experience working for big companies.
If this worked for me, it could also work for you.
So, are you ready to join a startup?