How to Tell you Work at a Start-Up

March 28, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

Going from Intel (100,000+ employees) to Facebook (250+) to Mint (6+) I have experienced a lot of different cultures, teams, experiences and more in just under 3 years.

The easiest way to tell if you are working at a start-up is:

If you died, would the company stop?

Give that line a few seconds…ready? Okay, so let my recap some experiences:

Intel:Had an obituary section on the intranet that highlighted people who died recently.

Facebook:An engineer died in a freak bicycling accident. A few minute talk about it and then back to work.

Mint: If something happened to anyone on the team (knock on wood) the company would be severely crushed.

Yes, I realize this doesn’t hold true if Steve Jobs dies but this is why I like start-ups. I feel like I matter at the company I work at. How do you feel?

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20 responses to “How to Tell you Work at a Start-Up

  1. Will Kern Reply

    You did a good job putting it into perspective. Working for a large company, your job does go on without you, you are a dispensable commodity (for the most part, unless of course you are Steve Jobs)and that is part of the territory. Only when you are non dispensable and the company relies on you to contribute to the monthly revenue stream does it become apparent how valuable you are.


  2. sri Reply

    hmm…interesting. The only motivation for me to work at a start up

    1) Potentially working for a cool company
    2) Good experience
    3) Potential IPO money
    4) Easily heard

    1) If you fuck up, everyone will know
    2) Cant afford to be lazy…u of those days where u just go in to work and surf the web the whole day…and next thing u know..its 3pm..then u realize its too late to start any real work so u continue surfing or looking for long lost friends on the internet. Then u email that long lost friend only to have them reply back to you after like 2 months….and they dont seem to be too interested in your ‘discovery’. (This is not a confession by the way…heard it from a friend)

  3. wendyness Reply

    That’s exactly why I enjoy working at start-ups. Well, not because the company would come to a halt if I died, but because it keeps me motivated knowing that my work is essential to the company’s vitality. I worked at a start-up and was a must-stay-aliver for a while, and as they slowly shifted (or shafted) me into a few-minute-talk position, I lost my motivation.

    But at the same time, you don’t want to be a blocker. That’s no good for any company.

  4. Angie Chang Reply

    I push pixels and copy edit at Azureus. All this post does is make me realize I want to contribute to the revenue stream. I don’t do that at my day job. Maybe it’s time for a new job. Who wants to hire me for product management or business development? :o)

  5. Shivani Reply

    i think it’s all relative. i work at a huge company, but I work in groups. If I died, my group would be pretty screwed. Yes, the Company will find somebody to replace me in time, but that person wouldn’t have the understanding about the work I was doing or be able to click with the team as well as I had. So, the project would take longer to complete and probably not turn out as well. The same goes for a start up company. Noah, if you died, I’m sure Mint could find another Marketing guy in a few days, probably not as good, but they could 🙂

    Have you ever read “One minute manager meets the monkey?” One of my favorite ideas from that book is that you are not doing your job properly if other people can’t readily take over your job once you’re gone. You’re being inefficient if your Company “needs” you desperately.

  6. Noah Kagan Reply

    I would hire you at Mint Angie!

    Shivani, I thought for a second you said the best people are the ones who can’t be replaced. I 100% agree with you if you are doing your job correctly you are sharing it with others and making your self dispensable to do other things. It is kind of backwards but that is what I have read and learned in my short career.

  7. Daniel Elmore Reply

    I love this kind of stuff Noah.

    I think you can also tell you work at a startup if the team wants to handle all customer/user support themselves. Most realize that the initial product feedback is priceless and they want to stay close to their users all long as possible. Support is just another hat everyone wears.

    Google somehow is still able to give that kind of touch to their customers. When I need some advanced AdWords support I can send them an email full of geek speak and half-thought out ideas, and the reply I get makes me think I’m corresponding with one of the AdWords engineers or product managers; it’s perfect support. Yahoo on the other hand, *brick*

  8. SusanJones (SixGunSusie) Reply

    I owned my own small, grew to medium, company for 9 years.
    The crew consisted of between 11 and 12, and yup, if anyone of them died, or me, the company would have been whamO’d.
    I now work for a much larger company, and, I like not having to worry about the ‘what ifs’, I’m totally enjoying the anon-factor.
    Of course I also know, if I had to fly solo at any point in time, and I mean any point, I can. Why? because I’ve done it, can do it.
    Go out and do it, make yourself the ultimate count in your company… has mental perks you aren’t even aware of.

  9. Mehul Patel Reply

    Noah Nice point!

    I love working with Start ups primary due to the following:

    It’s a small team so everyone is absolutely connected and in sync

    The feeling of Freshness is amazing like starting something from scratch

    Most of lunch, dinner , tea, coffee, wine is with the core team (this is where out of the box ideas are discussed)

    There is no bullshit from HR, Accounts, CFO, etc

    In a start up we normally tend to work with people whom we love and even more love there skills and so on…

    It’s a absolutely positive and a optimistic environment…

  10. Christie Reply

    Thats it, I quit…. j/k

    That is a VERY interesting post Noah. I think your value is really on your impact and influence which typically are much higher in a smaller environment.



  11. Damon Billian Reply

    I think it would definitely cause short-term issues at the company because the team tends to be pretty tight. That being said, the company would probably be ok long-term because they still have to move forward w/getting someone to take the role over.

    After all, PayPal didn’t collapse after I left…hahaha (I guess we weren’t a startup anymore).

  12. Mohammad Reply

    You bring an interesting topic. I hopped around quite a bit and I saw that small companies in general bounce back much quicker than you would expect after someone leaves.

    What would happen to Apple if Steve Jobs died today? When Jobs got his surgery a while back, the stock price fell instantly as soon as the news got out. On the other hand, if anything happens to Bill Gates right now, MS will be just fine.

  13. Tony Reply

    What I like about startups is that they tend to implement technologies that are actually fun to use. I’ve got my eye out on a couple of local startups that are looking for Ruby on Rails developers (student positions too! score). Hacking at legacy PHP4 just kind of.. sucks.