Thinking about working at a Startup? Pay Attention.

Working at a Startup

Unanimously hailed as the cradle of invention and innovation in 21st century America, startup fever has gripped the nation. From Silicon Valley (San Francisco) to Silicon Alley (New York), the brightest minds compete to work for the hottest startups, bringing novel ideas to market. But what is a startup? What does one do there exactly and what is it like to work at one? These questions are precisely what this post will attempt to answer.

What is a startup?

A startup is much more than simply a new company or one in its early stages of development. A startup is an entrepreneurial venture in the form of a company. A startup is an organization attempting to search for a repeatable and scalable business model, creating lasting innovation (and potentially supernormal profits) in the process. From a very early stage company, with a team of only co-founders, to publicly traded mega corporations like Google, it is hard to say when a startup is still a startup and the distinction is mostly a matter of personal choice. Nevertheless, there are various sized companies along the spectrum and roles can differ based on this. Defined by its creative culture, quirky benefits and opportunistic outlook startups are quickly changing the American workspace, lets find out how.

Roles at a startup

Most people regard startups as technology companies. While this is not strictly so, it tends to be true for the most part. However, in creating and launching new products or services there are a multitude of skills and jobs that go into the mix.  We will examine some core roles and positions that are highly in demand.

Engineering roles

As predominantly tech companies, startups are leading to a huge increase in the demand for engineers in the United States. Technical skills of all sorts are in need and engineers are startups find themselves at the heart of the innovation process. At Hourly Nerd, a medium sized startup with under a 100 employees based in Boston, Rick Keilty writes that he gets to “wear a lot of hats” and participate in a wide variety of tasks. While simultaneously getting the chance to “hunker down and focus on my core competency, programming.” At CDK global, a large integrated IT and digital marketing solutions provider, interns like Armen Abnousi talk about constantly learning new technological skills.

Product Management

Engineers at startups oftentimes find themselves moving up and transition into product management roles, which deal with the planning, forecasting and production of a certain product. Magdalena Georgieva, a Product Manger at Hubspot, tells us that on a day to day basis she: collects user feedback, monitors usage data and meets with engineering/design teams to suggest and implement optimizations. Hubspot is a large publicly traded startup based in Cambridge, MA, however, these day-to-day job functions are quite generic to all product managers.


Reaching new and potential customers is the key to building a successful company and today startups are adding new twists to traditional ‘sales’ jobs. Sales at a startup is a great way to launch your career, and learn abundant relationship building skills. George Vallone, A Business Development Representative at a mid-large sized cloud computing start up Acquia, says that about 60% of his time is spent having conversations with customers and prospects. For the remainder of his time George conducts through market research, travels to meet clients and attends strategy meetings with his fellow team members.


Startup marketing is a whole new scene where the traditional world of marketing is turned on its head, and transplanted to a digital landscape. Startup marketing differs from conventional practices as it involves marketing a new and untested product, with little resources and, frequently, very little capital. These constraints make it imperative to engage in smart marketing and identify, early on, the best channels through which to reach your customers. As a marketer at a startup you will engage in search engine marketing, content creation, public relations, social media marketing among other functions.


Culture is often an integral part of work life at a start-up and can be one of the biggest pluses of working for one. Startups tend to be very social places where you have increased opportunities to work on interdisciplinary teams and gain mentorship. Startups tend to work lean; as a result employees are very directly involved in their own projects and can truly appreciate the fruits of their labor. Most startups also provide generous equity options and through it another way in which you will be connected with the longer-term vision of your company. These opportunities for learning and growth usually lead to very high-energy teams and highly motivated individuals. Rick  from HourlyNerd loves the ‘electrifying’ atmosphere and how ‘excited’ everyone is about their jobs. Phil from LifeGuides likes the honesty and ‘support’ that everyone offers each other.

The longer term

Growth opportunities at startups are enormous and most employees are affronted plentiful development prospects. Typically, startup employees can expect to be placed in new roles or promoted once every 1.5 – 3 years. These practices lead to very young and dynamic organizations, ones with very steep learning curves. The roles one takes after working at a startup can vary widely and according to Yao, a financial analyst at Task Rabbit, depend to a large extent on “what interactions you have with other parts of the organization.” Depending on the type of role you are in, most employers value startup experience. Sales representatives usually move towards account executives and widen the people and clients they are responsible. Engineers grow towards senior technical roles where they manage teams and might become product managers. Successful product managers are great problem solvers and can move into a variety of upper level management roles. Many startup employees love the rush of the startup ecosystem so much they go on to become founders too, the strong leadership skills startups help to foster are definitely helpful here.

If you want to learn more about roles at startups, or gain more in-depth insights into career paths from those who are already on them, head over to LifeGuides to learn more.

By Phil Strazzulla
Phil Strazzulla Founder & CEO