Ep. 94 | Sarah E. Brown Grow Your Startup Career When You're Not the Founder

Sarah E. Brown, author of Power to the Startup People: How to Grow Your Startup Career When You're Not the Founder, wants to help people evaluate whether and how to build a career in startups. As we talk about on the show, most of what is written about startups is for the founder. Little-to-none has been written to help employees. Until now. Working at a startup can be fun and exciting and enriching and lucrative. Working at a startup can also be stressful and purposeless and cliche and unprofitable. To make matters worse, one startup might be a perfect fit for you, but a terrible match for your best friend, who you think is so much like you. In other words, working at startups is not for everyone. The point is to evaluate what you want out of your career and see how that matches up with what startups can offering. You need to look for a fit.

Author Sarah E. Brown on Helping Sells Radio by ServiceRocket Media

The most valuable part of Sarah's book is that it helps you think about this evaluation process. You quite literally could use Sarah's book to make a check-list of criteria and use it to evaluate your current role and possible next opportunity to determine the right fit build the right startup career.   

People have power

There is an important, implicit point that Sarah makes in her book, which is that employees at startups have power. Not all of the power is contained with the founders and the executive team. This is a hard pill to swallow because founders obviously have the power to fire us employees in an "at will" employment culture. On the other hand, startups cannot exist without employees. That belief alone gives employees power. "We have a lot more power than we realize," explains Sarah. "When we are empowered as employees, we make companies better."

Good founders understand this, and finding good founders (and startups) to join is what Sarah's book is all about. Employee power comes from our ability to make deliberate, informed decisions about which startup to join. Sarah helps us do that.

Reasons to work at a startup

One way Sarah's helps us select the right startup is to list the reasons why someone would join a startup in the first place, which include:

  1. Opportunities to earn a good living: While salaries might be lower on average than at larger companies, there is upside opportunity in the form of equity participation.
  2. Easier to make a visible impact: At a smaller, earlier stage company, there is a bigger change one can make a visible contribution. 
  3. Lower barriers to entry for your career: As Sarah shares in the book, many start ups hire people right out of high school and college.
  4. Flexible, nontraditional work environments: The stories of remote working, ping pong tables, and open work environments make work fun and productive for some. This might also mean more working late and one weekends or contributing to people being more distracted at work. Some people prefer to concentrate at work and leave work at the office. 
  5. Personal growth and learning: Startups can accelerate learning. But how fast do you want to go? 

Sarah discusses these reasons to work at a startup. There are trade offs, and the power we possess is using these reasons, and others, to find the right fit for us. There is a lot of power in finding the right fit. 

Learn more about Sarah:

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Bill Cushard

Written by Bill Cushard

Bill Cushard covers the intersection of learning, software adoption, and customer success. His career has focused on helping companies adopt disruptive software through learning, change management, communications, and implementations that help people get the most out the software.

Bill Cushard is also the author of the 2018 book, The Art of Agile Marketing: A Practical Roadmap for Implementing Kanban and Scrum in Jira and Confluence.