Behind the hype of working for a startup

Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett

I’m speaking at an event called Student Talks in Dublin next month. The first thing I am going to quash is any notion of getting a return when you’re working for or with a startup. We’ve hyped startups up, and maybe without enough context for younger people. In my experience, you work there for the long term wins. There is no return to get, you have to build it from scratch. The less money you have, the more you work. It’s character building and an excellent learning curve.

Previously I spoke to an employee who was with the company from day 1, and years later, when the company grew, he became CTO and cofounder. Years! If you want to work in a startup you need that long term vision. So, this week I speak to Chris Barrett, a guy right at the start of what will be an absolutely rewarding journey given the mindset he has.

Where are you working?

I work for Mint-Tek Circuits Ltd, and we source and supply printed circuit boards for research institutes and tech companies across the island of Ireland, and even further afield! But it’s not just a regular company, it’s a start-up – and one with a lot of promise.

What is it like?

Working in a start-up is totally different to your typical day-to-day office job. You don’t have “regular office hours” – you work 24/7 if you have to. There’s no shutting off emails at 5 o’clock and heading home, you have to be always available, all of the time. And yes, that does mean checking your emails at all times of the night!

But that’s the nature of a start-up company. Your employers can’t afford a huge staff – in my case, it’s just the three of us. And because you need as much capital as you can get, it’s hard to say no or turn away a customer. In our line of work, lead times are so important to winning a customer, and you have to work hard at eliminating as many delays as you can. So if that means getting up in the middle of the night to talk to a supplier in China, then that’s what you do.

It's long hours, and pay isn’t always the best, but it doesn’t feel like those matter when you work in a start-up. You’re given a unique opportunity to help shape a company through creating brand new processes, or pitching in ideas to win new financiers. Learning as you go is a massive part of being in a start-up too, so even if you’re not too familiar with the area of industry that company might be in, you won’t be long picking it up. It’s not long ago I didn’t have a clue about the procurement process – now I’m using the lingo like nobody’s business.

And because start-ups are small, there’s a great camaraderie between CEO and staff. You sit beside each other, your ideas are listened to, and you can develop a working relationship unrivalled in most established companies. You feel personally responsible for how the business grows, and that can instil a great pride in your work, and boost your moral often lacking if you worked a 9-5 regular office job.

Any downsides?

Of course there are always hiccups. And it can be disappointing when a process you want to try can have an adverse effect on the company. But you learn from those mistakes and you carry on. You try something different. These are skills that really shape a person and how they work, and can easily transfer into all aspects of a person’s life.

Networking! Another great advantage of being in a start-up. There isn’t enough cash to splurge on huge marketing campaigns to sell the product you’re involved in, so word-of-mouth and connections are vital to start-ups. And when you work for one, you’re always meeting new and exciting people, whether it’s people in Venture Capital firms, or at local community events, you get to go out into the business world and build a network that will be vital for travelling up your career ladder. Opportunities often unavailable for people in other business types.

In summary, would you recommend it?

People looking for work often see “start-up” and think “bad pay, long hours”. But they don’t see the massive advantages – and to be quite honest, fun! – that can be had by working for one. If you work for a start-up, you won’t feel like a worker bee, who isn’t valued by upper or even middle management. You take a job with a start-up, and you will be the lifeblood of the company, and valued more than you can imagine. I can’t recommend it enough.

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