From a company’s values and culture to stock options and bonuses, here are five important questions worth asking before joining a start-up.

To join a start-up, or an established firm? From a company’s culture to stock options, bonuses and your personal goals, these are five important things to consider before joining a start-up.

What do Grab, Lazada, Carousell and Shopback have in common? They’re all hugely-backed homegrown start-ups that have found success in recent times — and it seems these inventive companies are gaining traction not just for their business models, but the culture that comes attached.

Start-ups are often known for their flat hierarchy, giving employees greater autonomy over decisions and their work. Here’s how to decide whether you should work in a start-up, or if you’re better suited to a corporate environment.

Decide what your priorities are

Getting a job offer can be exciting, but before jumping the gun, take some time from your schedule to think about what you value in a job.

That essentially refers to the factors that would keep you motivated to do your best work, and might include:

It’s absolutely normal to feel some semblance of resentment when you’re constantly pulling long hours for your job, despite drawing a meagre salary. So if money is a sticking point for you, be prepared to push for your desired salary, and only compromise when you’re genuinely satisfied with the offer.

You should also ask about bonuses, and whether these are paid in a lump sum, or in tranches.
In addition, are these bonuses based on your performance, and would you need to have served at least six months with the company in order to enjoy them? Not all companies offer annual salary increments, either.

And, while start-ups normally run on a flat hierarchy, the downside comes in if you’re looking for structured career progression. That’s because titles don’t always matter in start-ups. Most of these companies expect their employees to pursue their own growth — which might mean initiating a project, working across other verticals within the team, or being moved into an entirely different role if the company decides to do an internal restructuring exercise. (That tends to happen quite a bit in early stage start-ups!)

If being promoted every two to three years is something you value, you might be better suited to working in a corporate environment.

Understand your employee benefits

It’s important that you get full transparency on any benefits you may be entitled to. Are you able to claim for meals if you OT? If you’ve children, will they enjoy the same medical and dental benefits, too?

Beyond, some start-ups offer equity to employees as an added incentive. Often, these stock options can only be vested after a certain period of time.

For instance, you might have to work for the company for a minimum of two years in order to exercise your stock options. In simpler terms, that means you’ll only be able to cash out on your stock after a stipulated time.

If you’re lucky enough to have secured a job offer that includes employee stock options, these are some questions to ask:

  • What percentage of the company do these shares make up?
  • How long will I have to wait before I can vest my stock options?

Determine if the role aligns with your goals

It can be difficult picturing goals in your career, especially if you’re still unsure about whether you chose the wrong industry to work in. And that’s okay! Focus instead on where you see yourself in three to five years, if time were no object.

Remove the boundaries you’ve set for yourself; just because you’ve a Science degree doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a UI/UX career later on. In that vein, list out some of your career goals, or companies you’d love to work for.

Then decide whether the start-up you’re contemplating joining would move you closer to that goal. You might also want to check the founders’ backgrounds. A lot of the time, the best opportunities come from knowing the right people.

Research the company

On that, it’s always better to work for a company whose products you’ve used, or whose content you actively seek out. If that isn’t the case, what is it about the start-up that intrigues you?

If you’re invited for a job interview, some important things to research or ask include:

  • Whether the company has had successful seeding rounds (for funds)
  • What its plans for growth are in the next three to five years
  • What the turnover rate is like

It’s essential that the start-up is financially backed by investors, or can prove that it has ample runway to sustain its growth. Does the company intend to expand into new markets? How big will the immediate team be, and in general, how long do its employees stay on for?

Which leads us to this:

Ask about the company’s culture and values

Understanding the company’s values, culture and communication styles would likely only come in time.

How a company operates, however, is intrinsically linked to job satisfaction.

For instance, does the start-up have transparent practices — meaning all employees are regularly updated on its successes and setbacks? Would you be able to approach the CEO directly, or would you have to go through your reporting manager? Are mistakes penalised, or seen as learning points?

Other factors to consider include the culture. Given the current work-from-home (WFH) measures most companies are adopting, this can be hard to gage. Some start-ups may have virtual potlucks to encourage camaraderie, or may expect a certain level of proactivity in initiating projects.

You might also do well to check its Glassdoor page. How a company functions is telling of whether its employees are valued, so don’t be afraid to ask the tougher questions.

Whether you choose to join a start-up or larger corporation, there’ll always be pros and cons, so go in with an open mind.


About Planner Bee

Planner Bee personal financial planning mobile app made by industry experts. It provides you with a personalised financial dashboard by consolidating your banking, insurance policies and investments data. A modern way to budgeting, setting financial goals, and managing money.

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