how ironic – once you’ve deleted the “Hello World” post, wordpress decides to greet you with a rather depressing note – Sorry, but you’re looking for something that isn’t there. and here i am starting a log of all things that unfold as part of my decision to join a startup – again. i expect my time herafter to be a pursuit of a lot of fabulous things. there’s the opportunity to work like a ninja, feel different from everyone around in a general good sort of way, be devoted to something as fragile as an idea, to work with rather cool individuals, to be kings and servants of the highest order, to learn everything that gets things done, to see el dorado, to create the kingdom of awesomeness – and alas, be content with the fact that i’m just looking for things i hope are there, and try!
to put a cosy job aside and join a startup might sound quite a normal thing in parts of the world where the word ‘startup’ brings to mind a host of things, generally involving – challenge, appreciation, hard-working, geek, etc. however, out here in india, it still evokes emotions one might readily associate with the situation when the lunatic of the family decides to jump from the roof. it just doesn’t make sense that you’d take a pay-cut when it would be prudent to pump even more money into retirement funds, to book my 3 bedroom apartment, and give a go-ahead to my parents to initiate the process of marriage. in the moment when you’ve got to brace the storm, all the effort and emotional upheavals you need to go through might seem overwhelming. i do not think i’d blame those who cave-in and stick to the normal course of events. when you’re hit by the emotional equivalent of the overdramatisation of all the soap operas put together, flipping for a startup might seem pretty much unworthy. but well, i can’t speak much of how families differ and how to go about the whole thing – it’s just that, if you’re close to your parents, it feels mighty better to get on with things after having told them and probably convinced them. remember to dedicate the weekend after all the tussles to the sublimeness of getting high – preferrably legally. if however, you decide to walk away from a startup, be sure that you don’t hold anyone else responsible for the regret, because it was you at the end who decided!
once all that’s done, you set out to discuss and work out the best environment in which to work in. some important lessons i learnt from my previous startup experience –
- the startup should be headed by at least 2 individuals of the same age group, and preferrably not related.
- the age gap between you and the founders should be less [though this is not too important if  is satisfied].
- if you do not know the founders personally, you should at least be in a position to get some quality trustworthy references.
- the founder[s] should be geeky and down-to-earth, than an over-educated technologist, who sounds more like an MBA [without the degree]. some handy key words to set off alarms – valley-style startup, stealth mode, challenge yourself.
- ideas are exchanged in a randomly directed fashion between individuals rather than well-directed [or uni-directed] instructions.
- if your founder[s] uses terms like an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement] to keep things off you, then he/she is really not going to share any of the glories either.
- if your startup is small [4-5 members], self-funded, and the founder[s] tries to make a measly share of the company [usually < 1%] vested over a couple of years, sound like the best deal of your life – boy, you got to walk away.
you might get to experience some shades of the above mentioned points, but try and be sure that you can resolve it to something more clear.
now, when you get to join a startup which pretty much qualifies contrary to all things above, you might still need to get some prickly issues sorted out.
- stake – respect the fact that the people who got in right at the beginning, took a far greater risk than you are. respect that! you qualify for the ‘sweat’ part of the stake, so keep in mind what value you bring in. if possible, enquire about the existing distribution of ownership, and then make a fair claim. a typical startup with say 3 founders would firstly decide to set aside 20% for sweat equity, 25% for investors, and the rest for themselves. if the value you bring in is decent, then you should be entitled to a good stake up-front. so take the 20% and divide it amongst the individuals other than the founders, and keep in mind a modest addition of future employees and vested options – so that should give you a good idea of your initial stake value.
- renumeration – if you’re entitled to draw a fixed income as well, then be prepared to lose out on your previous salary. the more you’re prepared to lose, the greater is your leverage to have an increased stake.
- terms and conditions – as a necessity of registering a company, the govt enforces certain norms like issuance of an offer letter. startups usually outsource this task to a legal corporation, which in-turn might draft some pretty pointless terms. more likely as a result of not having any idea as to how a startup is different than a full blown corporation. so feel free to express your discomfort with certain fancy legal stuff. be bold to clarify the incomprehensible sections, because the subtle difference between say implied and notified can change the context of a harmless statement quite drastically.
after all that, you’re ready to start your engines and fire up on all cylinders. the next few posts i’ll try and explore the initial stages of shaping up an idea, the conflicts of suggestions, the apprehensions of someone else getting there first, and weighing between what obviously seems the right thing to do, but may not be so.