Currently working in a stable job at a large-ish company with a good salary and benefits but not likely to get promoted anytime soon. I have a prospective opportunity working for a unicorn as a Director with the opportunity to build something from scratch, but I’ve never worked at a start-up. Anyone have advice or things I should consider?

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Since it’s a unicorn, you might not have this issue. From my perspective, it’s super important to maintain a network outside of the startup to bounce ideas off of, seek counsel from, or confide in. It can be isolating building something from scratch, especially if you haven’t before. Diving into the unknown is fun and rewarding and even better with other people on the team you build and with peers and mentors who are objective and removed from your day-to-day.

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How important is work life balance to you? What about structure and continuity? Unicorns are a sea of constant change so you have to thrive. And if you are building there is always the expectation that you still fly the plane while you’re putting it together. Work life balance is fairly non-existent at most fast growing scale ups, especially anyone that is still building/scaling operations.

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I'll never work at a startup again because of the work life balance. The importance of always being "on" in a startup ruined my health and mental state when I worked at startups. However, that being said, I don't know how old you are. If you are still in that mode of consistently working 70+ hours a week and are in good health, it may be worth the risk even if it's for a couple of years. If you leave your company amicably you should be okay to come back (at a better salary) if the startup life isn't for you.

Before you even think of making the jump, check with the significant other in your household. Even if it’s the dog/cat/goldfish. Talking it out loud-even if you’re alone-can be a good way to figure out how committed you are. If you make the jump, keep in good stead with your former employer. The unicorn may turn out to be an albatross... having a parachute available can be handy. Finally, getting paid in stock/options is all well and good—- but you can’t eat/pay the bills with them. Make sure they give you enough cash for living expenses and a little extra.

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I agree with the posts here. If it’s a unicorn startup up it’s 24/7 for awhile. Work life balance can take a hit and even if it becomes one of the few startups to do well you won’t see returns for years. I only took a chance like yours because my significant other was on board 100%, the job I was leaving said I could come back anytime, the base salary was slightly higher and I knew the director I was going to work under so the risk vs reward weighted heavily to make the jump. However It’s exciting, challenging and fun if you can handle high stress situations.

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Whats your appetite for risk?

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I’m usually risk averse but this one seems worth it

Take the leap and hope it’s a rocket ship! 🚀 And if not, then you can find another “stable job at a large-ish company” I think you’d have more regrets if the unicorn company succeeds without you, and you could have been on the rocket ship too.

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Your rate of learning at a startup will be much higher than your current job. However, you may learn a lot about what not to do and what you personally don't like. Those lessons might be valuable to you in your career.

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