What Makes a Startup Superhero? These Five Things.

Here are a few qualities of people who are cut out to work for a startup.

Do you have what it takes to be a startup superhero?

As you may know, I’m an executive recruiter (okay, go ahead… call me a headhunter if you must).

Most of my clients are startups and early-stage technology companies, and I help them find the kind of awesome candidates who will help their new company succeed.

I get resumes every day from people saying they want to work for a startup, but on closer inspection, their resumes show only jobs working in large departments of “multinational leaders” with “$3.5 billion in sales.”

I’d bet money that they haven’t really thought through what it takes to succeed – and more important to really thrive – in a brand-new company.

Working for a startup is not like working at a giant corporation with lots of staff, services, expense accounts and job security (well, as much job security as is possible in these times).

Startups are the opposite – not enough people, minimal support or services, tiny expense accounts and every day is filled with uncertainty and ambiguity (along with hope and excitement, of course).

And, with a few exceptions, you’re either cut out for it or you’re not.

Here are a few things that I see startup superheroes have in common.

1.  Your are a versatile juggler with no ego.

In a startup, there’s no room for “that’s not my job.” Everyone has to be willing to do whatever it takes and no matter how senior you are, you might find yourself answering the phone, arranging a meeting or saving the day by making last-minute changes in a presentation to pitch to an investor. The more things you can do, and the happier you are switching hats, the better.

2.   You produce quality results on a shoestring.

Keeping the burn rate down gives a startup more time to make it, and it looks much better to potential investors, so until sales are rolling or an investor writes a fat check, you’ll need to know figure out how to get the most bang for your limited buck without giving up quality and results. Creativity, efficiency and finding cheaper ways to do things, like barter, consultants, viral marketing and a network of potential partners or advisors, can make or break a startup.

3.   You can work whatever hours it takes.

It’s not quite as bad nowadays as it was back in the dotcom boom when people camped out under their desks night after night, but startup employees still work notoriously long hours. If you need a 9 to 5 job with predictable time off, or have other commitments or demands on your time, you might want to look for a more defined job with a more established company.

4.  You can live on less money.

Generally, early stage startups pay a lot less than established companies and often people take stock instead of cash for the first months. That’s called sweat equity, and to do it, you need to know that 1) you have your finances sorted and know you can easily make ends meet and 2) you like the idea of growing the company and making your stock worth something.

5.  Your partner or spouse thinks it’s a great idea.

It can get a little rocky and stressful when you’re building a company, and you definitely need your home team to be rooting for you. I’ve had many placements with startups fall apart when a spouse or partner really thought about the sacrifice of time and salary and nixed the idea, so if you have a partner, make sure they’re truly on board with it.

As you think about the pros and cons of working for a startup, be realistic with yourself and honest about your situation.

If you absolutely positively have to have that reliable paycheck for your kid’s tuition for the next three years, or you really want to be managing a big team and not out closing the first sales, that’s good to know.

Not everyone is cut out to be a startup superhero, and not everyone is in the situation to do it, but if you fit these five criteria, and you’re drawn to build a company from the ground up, you might want to give it a shot.

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