The last three years witnessed a huge wave in the startup job market. Big fat salaries caught everyone’s fancy. Then, as expected, the wave crashed. Layoffs replaced fat salaries. What we see today is the whole Indian startup story churning upside down.
I see this as huge disaster for Indian economy specially, for innovation driven businesses as startups are the only place where new ideas generally takes shapes.
Why? Let’s understand it by taking a closer look.
Why do you want to join a startup?
Answer #1: Higher salary, fancy designations, flashy workplace, inflated job descriptions, ultra-cool brand name.
Answer #2: Passion, ability to take the driver’s seat, greater risk and uncharted territory, chance to prove and be your best. Get an exposure of 20 years in just two years.
But answer #2 comes with its own drawbacks. You have to be ready for working in a basic office setup with the coffee machine as the only luxury available. Your boss might not look like one and he/she might ask you questions you would have never imagined. The volley of questions may well freak you out and you may not have answers and still you are supposed to deliver.
The current investment scenario has destroyed the culture of startups. Once viewed as unicorns (startups valued at $1 billion or more), startups are now viewed as donkeys wearing a fake horn.
This has led to a wrong perception about startups, created wrong expectations, inflated demand and eventually resulted in a failure to deliver, in turn making it look like a risky affair. Now, working for a startup is no more a fancy social swag.
A lot of fresh talent is shying away from joining this innovative sector and India is losing out on the best of ideas.
What then is the solution? In today’s almost dried funding environment, one thing is for sure only real ideas will survive and grow. Let’s call them cactus startups unlike unicorns.
Cactus startups can survive in any condition but it is full of thorns and therein lays the beauty of it.
Good news for cactus startups is that only real people will come forward to join now, and it will weed out the so called fake startup enthusiasts.
Key question is- how does one identify a cactus startup?
Here are some pointers and things that you must check if you are a real startup enthusiast who wishes to build his/her career out of an exciting new idea and who wants to be part of shaping the future.
Vision, purpose and the drive behind the startup
The startup interview is a dual way process. You must interview the founder before you join the startup. Ask about the vision and what he/she is looking at in the coming years, what his/her company wishes to contribute and why does it exist? Usually, startups without any real purpose lose focus as things gets tough and keep changing path as a result; the purpose may also no longer be the same.
Ask why the entrepreneur has chosen the specific idea and specific path to execute it. People often confuse an entrepreneur with a businessman.
A businessman intends to make money but an entrepreneur is always trying to solve a problem and find ways to grow.
So, never join an individual, always join the core belief and participate in the vision. Until you don’t believe in the vision, you will feel choked down the line, however enticing the package or perks may be.
The journey till now
Always find out about the journey of the startup and the founders. This will give you a fair idea of their stickiness to their core belief and values. Find out how they zeroed on to their core values and vision. Question what they have learned from the failure. Remember, failure is part of the journey.
Culture defines the DNA of the company in the making. You are going to be a part of it. Try and see if you can adapt to it. Do you feel awkward when you see the founder in slippers, long beard, smoking with a junior employee, and sharing his childhood stories? If so, scoot. The startup environment is not for you.
At a professional level, innovative, self-made regulations might be difficult to understand initially, but there is a method behind the madness. Culture plays a crucial role in creating an environment where innovation can happen, ideas can flow and success can be achieved and celebrated. Failures are accepted, opportunities are shared, stupidity is given attention and correction both, and ideas are rewarded. Passion and leadership must have the greatest respect and it must let you blossom to who you really are.
Do your homework on what users and customers are talking about the startup you are about to join
Try and find the reviews of the customers, users from social media, app store or use your common sense.
If the startup is working to please investors, partners and not the end user, there exists a problem and it is definitely not on the right track.
Getting the excel sheet of traction is easy but getting customers who really care about you and your business is most difficult. If the startup priority is not in order, please stay away.
Try and find out the next three months road map of the startup. Is it raising money? Or is it solving a key business problem? Or is it something else? Also find out what’s your role in it. If a startup is hiring you to please investors, please be very cautious. You may not enjoy the process if you are looking for real work. If you are being hired for solving a real business problem than you must enjoy it and it must be exciting enough for you to get engaged on a long term basis. Never join a startup as a short term goal of your career. Always remember, shifting from a corporate culture to a startup is possible but the reverse will be difficult. So, choose your decision wisely.
Once you are on a journey and on a different track with a cactus startup, it will be an all-time high for you.