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by • April 16, 2014 • FoundersComments (5)1126

Should you risk 3 years of your career on a startup?

Should you give up 3 years of your career to try a startup? It’s a common concern from first-time founders, but the question is meaningless because it’s phrased to ignore a startup’s career benefits. Namely, that your employability keeps growing while you’re away.

For example, when I first graduated university, I could only have been hired as an entry-level programmer. But after a couple years in a [doomed] startup, I could get work in a bunch of different jobs (sales, strategy, product management, marketing, etc) and could also have been hired back as a more senior programmer. Since then, I’ve only ever felt my options expanding. In terms of your career, taking some time to work on a startup is all upside, even if you go back to the corporate world; you re-enter at a higher level than you left. Of course, this isn’t going to be true for some specialist jobs like surgery. But I’m quite convinced that it’s true of your career in general.

As long as you avoid big personal risk (like taking on lots of credit card debt), you can’t really get hurt by a startup, even if it’s a write-off. The years aren’t wasted; they’re building options.

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5 Responses to Should you risk 3 years of your career on a startup?

  1. campbell says:


    I’ve always liked this rationale. What I’ve heard though from a range of people including recruiters and Senior big company folks is: when they see an applicant who has been at a bunch of startups, especially as a founder, they question their commitment to a regular gig. i.e. won’t this person just leave in a year once they have their footing again?

    This may be changing, and I’ve seen some founders successfully transtition to jobs after their venture fails, but a lot of time I see them wrestle with getting a senior role.

    • robfitz says:

      Interesting. The cynical interpretation would be that certain jobs only want people they can firmly trap with the golden handcuffs, but I can see it being true for some legitimate long-term jobs as well. When I wrote this I was thinking of someone in their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s, which is who I mainly chat to. Would love to see some more stories/data about how it played out for more senior people (not saying you need to provide it, just that I’m interested in general).

      • Tony says:

        Well, this is not the case if you are 40+. Corporate world is not willing to re-hire someone as a full/part time who have been away for trying to build his/her startup. Startup experience on your CV sounds like a disadvantage and they are not willing to appreciate your entrepreneurial mind-set and initiatives. They think this is not a good fit for corporate culture unless you look for freelance jobs. That’s my friends’ and also my personal experience.

  2. Stephen says:

    I have a degree in Accounting and one in Law, so I’m pretty employable in that respect. But I’ve been doing the start up thing and agree with Campbell. Every company I work for now I’m negotiating equity or at least a senior role. That said the reason I do that is because I feel more employable because of the start up experience.

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