What does it mean to work in startup? Work for equity? My job story at Better Day™ Health

Have you ever got an offer to work in startup? What’s work at startup like? Offered to work for equity and asked yourself what that actually means? Should you rush to accept that offer as it is so unique opportunity? Or is it just a fool’s gold and sounds too good to be true? With this blog post I want to try to clear your confusion by sharing with you my own story about one longer part of my life which I feel can be interesting for other IT developers to read about and perhaps learn something from my experience. 🙂

A lot of us after finishing university usually starts searching for a job and joins matured profitable companies where you just do your daily tasks, get fixed salary and try to go up career ladder in time. Sometimes we go for smaller companies sometimes for big international ones, but usually we join a group of people who are already working together, have goals set up, have own team leaders and managers distributed. That exactly was my experience as described, before I was invited to join at that moment young startup company – Better Day™ Health – my new adventure career wise about which I want to tell you here. But first things first, let me tell you why and how I left everything behind and opened new blank page in my life. For that I created separate story blog post – “Never be afraid to change technology“.

So what is Better Day™ Health? I would like to give a credit and introduce this promising company as I worked there for more than 4 years and chosen to believe in its idea.

Better Day™ Health was founded by Peter Ragusa, MD, MPH and a group of dedicated healthcare & technology professionals from the US & Europe around a single, unifying purpose: to create innovations that drive dramatic improvements in the way medicine is practiced that lower costs, save lives, extend resources and facilitate closer patient-provider relationships.

Better Day™ is a web-based software platform that uses predictive modeling and 3rd-party applications & devices to turn data into action and, in doing so, actively facilitate patient-provider collaboration in order to proactively manage health, fitness & chronic disease. Better Day™ is focused on providing a first-of-breed ‘smart’ electronic health record (EHR) platform to facilitate the highest quality of care in a highly-complex healthcare system.

So to say in short and in simple human words, it’s just innovative company with really modern ideas to drastically improve healthcare software using latest technologies and its trends. Being only Android developer there I worked on creating Better Day™ Pro app presented on my portfolio.

Now let’s come back to the main question: so what it is like to work in startup and even get some equity for that? The answer is that actually it is a mixed feeling as it has its own advantages and disadvantages which I want to talk about here in this post. I believe this information could be especially helpful for someone who is trying to decide between startup over corporation, if startup could be the right choice and what to expect.

To mess up your mind let’s start with the hard things you can expect to experience when joining any startup. These things I experienced myself when joining this particular organization. Of course hard not necessarily means bad but it’s challenging. Depending on your attitude to life and values that you prefer these things can be counted as disadvantages or just be ignored, acceptable to you. Here they are:

  1. You are suddenly left alone to work almost completely on your own! For startup it is natural to count money and hire as little as possible new people until some progress is made. This means that you can’t get any help from anybody as you alone are responsible for some specific area. All that really professional colleagues who lead you by example and was always around you to help now are gone and you have to solve all the problems just by using your own head and Google of course. 🙂 Are you ready for such challenge?
  2. You need to learn how to communicate well. You can be the best specialist in your area, but that’s not enough, you need to know how to present your work. By saying present I mean explain it so clearly like you would do for a child. There is no more producers, managers, team leaders or any other middleman between you and your boss. Company CEO usually has only generic knowledge in all areas, so you can’t expect him to understand your technical language and challenges you face every day. And actually it is normal, you need to be less geeky while communicating and understand importance of that. You can even lose your job if don’t learn this advice. Believe me as I saw that happening in my own eyes. 😉
  3. You need to deliver! Results is the only thing that matters in startup environment. If working in bigger company you could avoid personal responsibility for some time, here you can’t hide.
  4. You can be asked to use your personal devices, like laptop, monitor, phone, tablet for work. Why? Because it’s just too big investment for startup at first to buy everything you need and they try to save money as they can.
  5. You lose a lot of perks that big companies offer as competition for IT workforce is so tough these days. Most valuable ones are company contributions to your pension, healthcare insurance, various paid memberships. Also you need to forget about free snacks, drinks, fruits, pizza at work. If your startup company does not decide to rent some brand new co-working space and starts everything in house environment like we did at first than you definitely feel the difference. For us who work in IT area good work conditions an modern environment became so natural that sometimes we do not even evaluate that and accept as a normal thing. What happened to me was that big comfortable office with good quality professional chairs, wide desks, dual monitors’ setup, pool table, wending machines, clean restrooms had been suddenly changed to small dark private apartment with old uncomfortable tables, my personal laptop and mobile phone for development. It was miserable and funny at the same time.
  6. You are naturally forced to become “jack of all trades” – a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. If you are a programmer than expect to be a designer for some time too and computer repair technician if needed, and anybody else based on demand when special work situation arise.
  7. Personal training? Sorry, but there is no time for this! Never, as there is always rush to deliver to secure new money injection from investors. Forget such things like paid tech conferences. Also don’t expect a lot of training from other team members, not because they don’t want to, but because everybody has special role assigned for building product and not for training somebody. If they are going to do it, it will be just a minimal introduction to avoid wasting their time.

However working in startup has many own advantages too. Let’s try to list them all here:

  1. Most important one is that you get tons of priceless experience. Just think yourself a minute about it. You do work from day one, you actually build product. You do that through the trials and errors, you constantly challenge yourself every day. It’s like next level. You learn effectively create added value and that is most important to any business. Every future employer will understand how valuable such experience is without much explanation.
  2. Naturally such experience working in startup is one of the best ways to boost your career as a developer. With challenging tasks and responsibilities assigned you learn a lot new skills fast which makes you better developer. Experienced developers earns more and are always on demand.
  3. It’s interesting and fun to work in startup. Until now I just emphasized how hard and challenging work in startup is, but with all that it also becomes interesting. No more boring repetitive tasks every days. You are involved in almost all stages of product development, not just in specific ones.
  4. You all become really close like a family working towards one goal. In startup there are no job titles. You know CEO personally, you can chat with him anytime you want because he is sitting next to you. It’s not some big corporation where you don’t even understand who is responsible for what, or where you never talked with the main boss.
  5. Freedom. Compared to corporations in startup you get much more flexibility. There is no employees tracking or managing, no strict rules, no need to ask for special permissions. You can dress as you want, go out when you want. You feel that you control your day and you don’t get that prisoner’s feeling. In general people are clever creatures and it’s not natural for them to be controlled by others that’s why freedom feeling is so important. Usually even without a control everybody still does a good job as they feel responsible.
  6. If startup is going to be successful and to grow, you can confidently expect to get a leading position and much more money easy. Most important people will always be the ones who were the core of the company when it was created.
  7. You have opportunity to see and experience company’s growth from inside and learn from true innovators. Behind every successful startup there is entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs approach problems differently, are constantly finding solutions and demonstrate original way of thinking. That’s why they are some of the best people to learn from. After working in startup and seeing how it’s done, you can get inspired to start your own adventure.
  8. Working in startup will give you personal ownership feeling, pride that you created something by your own, you are representing the company and the product. This is difficult to understand, but can become big inspiration for you to do your daily job.
  9. To avoid loosing best employers during the time and keep them more motivated, it’s very common practice to offer them participation in company’s equity earning program. That can become huge advantage over the time.

My mentioned the last one advantage, equity offer, is worth separate discussion as it is tricky one. It is also a reason why I decided to write this blog post in the first place as I got my own life lessons with it. What does it mean? In short, having equity in a company means that you have a stake in the business. From the first look it sounds like a clear winner. Finally you think that you have a chance to earn real money if the company does well. And people are usually optimistic about the companies in which they work. First of all if you have chosen to join particular organization because you already believe in its idea and future success. That’s normal and that’s how it should be. Also a lot of inspiration comes from massive media where you read success stories of various startups every day. However you need to understand that the value of equity is neither certain nor fixed.  The difference between the worst case and best case scenarios can be huge. Remember that the huge amount of startups around the world fails constantly and only the best one succeed, but nobody talks about the losers. In order to get some equity you will need to sign a contract to stay in the company for certain time. And time is definitely the most valuable thing you have in life. Even if you done everything correctly by agreement (stayed with the company for set time, worked hard on creating product, respected the confidentiality orders, et cetera) are you sure that you can trust these people when it comes to money. Are they going to pay you without going to the court? Does that contract document which you signed years ago really means something? What if company suddenly becomes not so friendly towards you when you decide to leave and you will have to fight for your equity part? Are you ready for that and you have enough willpower to do it as every fight can be so tiring and time wasting? My goal by modeling these scenarios is not to say that equity offers are worthless, not at all, but what I want to explain you that you shouldn’t overemphasize it when deciding over on getting a new job. It’s a good bonus to have if it’s offered next to your salary, but to go and work only for equity instead of real money is too much risky, and I would not recommend such crazy idea. In my opinion the advantages disadvantages I listed above but not the equity offer should impact your decision to join startup over corporation or not.

To sum up everything I would like to say that I had amazing life and developer experience when joining a startup over the corporation, and if I could rewind back the time I would do that again. If you never worked in “real” startup (apartment based 😀) definitely try that. You can expect to get motivation boost, learn how to learn new things fast, how to control your time wisely, become responsible and self-confident in doing everything by your own, learn how to lead and teach others instead of expecting to be trained by someone and I could go on.

 

 

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