Working at a startup can be an exciting and uniquely challenging career experience. The meteoric success of companies such as Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb have inspired many entrepreneurial-minded professionals to follow their passions and dive headfirst into the world of starting their own business.

While life at an up-and-coming venture may seem endlessly exhilarating, it doesn’t come without its share of risk. About 50 percent of small businesses survive their first five years, and there’s a long list of reasons why startups fail.

Among the top reasons for a startup's demise is not having the right team. This idea underscores the need for founders to recruit people who are enthusiastic about their organization’s mission and are driven to help it succeed.

If you’re drawn to the world of entrepreneurship but are not sure that you want to blaze your own path as a business owner, then joining an early-stage startup might be the right move for you. Before you decide to join a startup, there are a few things you should consider to determine if it’s a career path you’d like to pursue.

Whether you’re just starting out in the workforce or aiming to take your career in a different direction, a position at a young company can provide you with skills and experience that you’d be hard-pressed to find in the corporate world. Here are four benefits of taking a job at a startup.

Related: 11 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Startup

Benefits of Working at a Startup

1. You Adapt to Change and Uncertainty

Startups have smaller teams and fewer resources than mature companies, which enables you to wear a lot of hats. While your job title may suggest that you have a defined set of responsibilities, startups operate with an “all hands on deck” mentality. You’re expected to pitch in when work needs to get done, whether it’s a task you’ve handled before or one that you’re encountering for the first time.

Jeffrey Bussgang, general partner at early-stage venture capital firm Flybridge and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, says that loosely-defined roles at startups lead to a more unified team approach to pursuing goals.

“Startups represent giant experiments,” writes Bussgang in the Harvard Business Review. “Every initiative is new. One hypothesis after another is being tested. Titles, functional boundaries, roles, and responsibilities are often fluid. The team works as one, inventing, creating, moving toward shifting goals—all while working without a playbook.”

This ambiguity that comes with day-to-day work teaches you to respond to change on the fly. Unlike a structured corporate environment, where tasks outside of the scope of your job can be passed on to specialized departments, working at a startup forces you to roll up your sleeves and tackle issues head-on.

Not only does this make you a more proactive and resourceful team player, but it allows you to pick up problem-solving techniques and skills you might not have been exposed to in a more segmented role at a larger company.

2. Your Work Has a Visible Impact

The lean nature of a startup team creates an environment where you don’t feel like you’re just a cog in a wheel. In contrast to larger, more established companies, startups tend to have less structure and flatter hierarchies. This means your place in the organization is highly visible, and the impact of your work is more readily apparent than if you were in a more specialized position.

“At a startup, every job matters and you can see almost daily that you are creating something that wasn’t there before,” says Rebecca Liebman, CEO and co-founder of online education hub LearnLux, in an article for Working Knowledge. “You have the ability to learn quickly and have a fast feedback loop to let you know how you’re doing.”

This clear and immediate insight into the effectiveness of your contributions can give you a feeling of immense job satisfaction. And that satisfaction can fuel your desire to put your best foot forward so you can continue making a meaningful impact and help your company grow.

3. You’re Surrounded by Passionate Team Members

A startup begins with an idea for a solution to a problem, but it takes a team of motivated, talented individuals to take that idea and build it into a sustainable business. In a survey of more than 100 entrepreneurs, 37 percent said that a new venture’s biggest challenge is getting the team right.

“It takes a particular type of person to want to join a startup, especially when there isn’t a product and it’s just an idea,” says Abe Ankumah, CEO and co-founder of IT operations firm Nyansa, in the online course Entrepreneurship Essentials. “You want to find people who want to build the next Google to make it Google, versus people who want to join Google because it’s already Google.”

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By joining a venture in its early stages, you have the opportunity to be part of a small team of passionate people who care about their work and are eager to help the company succeed. Whereas larger firms draw talent with high salaries and extensive benefits, startups focus recruiting efforts on people who are committed to the organization’s purpose.

“Working at a startup, you’re expected to become emotionally invested,” writes Bussgang in the Harvard Business Review. “The sense of mission and adventure is greater than at a traditional organization, and your efforts are clearly and directly linked to the value and success of the enterprise.”

This kind of mission-based environment creates a tight-knit culture of camaraderie that instills more than just a sense of belonging, but a deep pride in your work.

Related: Joining a Startup? Here's What You Need to Know

4. You Learn About Entrepreneurship

During your time at a startup, you’ll likely work closely with the company’s founders and leaders, which gives you an unprecedented look into the realities of entrepreneurship.

Through having direct access to senior management and experiencing how an organization grows over time, you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of what it takes to scale a business—from hiring staff to establishing a brand identity.

Beyond the practical business insights you pick up, being part of a new venture empowers you to have a greater influence over how the company operates than you would in a more hierarchical environment. As a member of a small team, you’re afforded the chance to propose your ideas for innovation and solutions for how the organization can be more efficient.

In doing so, you’re able to think more like a business owner and come up with ideas that don’t just benefit you and your team, but the company as a whole.

Related: The Most Successful Startups Have Hands-On Founders

5. You Get to Experience a Different Company Culture

If you decide to take a job at a newly-founded company, you’ll find out first-hand that startup culture is different than corporate culture. Whether you’re looking for a change, or haven’t liked the more rigid nature of a traditional corporate office, it could be a great opportunity to experience a different kind of work environment.

You may find that you’re more suited to startup culture if you love a fast-paced, ever-changing workplace and don’t shy away from responsibility. However, a more traditional corporate culture might be a better fit if you value work-life balance, or prioritize compensation over passion. It’s important to assess both your personal and professional goals and weigh the pros and cons of each to determine which environment is best for you.

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Choosing the Startup Path

As a startup builds and scales, it needs a team of people who are committed to its mission, hungry for responsibility, and eager to learn. The decision to join a startup isn’t always an easy one, but if you’re willing to accept the risks and take the plunge, it can be a fulfilling and worthwhile part of your career journey.

Now that you have a better understanding of the benefits of joining a startup, here are four questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Am I aligned and passionate about the company's mission?
  2. Am I willing to take on an increased level of responsibility?
  3. Am I naturally eager to learn new things?
  4. Does my existing team have what it takes to make this venture successful?

For Anita Umoh and Maggie Robb, former participants in the online course Entrepreneurship Essentials, the decision to leave established corporate environments for startups paid off.

Umoh says that pursuing a path of entrepreneurship after 18 years in the banking industry reignited a passion in her work.

In the case of Robb, transitioning from a large company to a startup in Silicon Valley enabled her to learn new business concepts and further her professional development.

Whether you have aspirations of one day starting your own company or are seeking an alternative to a traditional corporate job, the lessons you learn at a startup are invaluable and can be carried with you for the rest of your career.

Are you interested in joining a startup, but want to begin with a foundational knowledge of the entrepreneurial journey? Explore our four-week online course Entrepreneurship Essentials and learn the framework for building and managing new ventures.

(This post was updated on June 24, 2020. It was originally published on November 6, 2018.)

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.