What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine working at a startup? There is bound to be a range of answers from testing out the latest tech innovations to working in a chaotic unstructured environment. Then there is working in a cool office space with ping pong tables and a fridge filled with dozens of different flavoured sodas. While there are as many answers as there are experiences from working at startup companies, there are certain benefits that seem to set the startup experience apart from the typical corporate job. 

Startup jobs versus corporate jobs

But what actually are the biggest differences and why do they matter anyway? Let’s face it, landing your first “real” job can be very challenging. With the countless opportunities out there, you might find yourself asking the question: “How am I supposed to know what is the right gig for me?”. It is common for the majority of students and recent graduates to seek jobs in well-known established corporations that offer stable contracts and opportunity to start climbing the corporate ladder. While a job in an established company can appeal as the best option and a “secure” job for many, working at a startup can offer benefits that a position in a large corporation cannot.

Popularity of startup jobs is on the rise

The popularity of startups as employers has visibly increased.  We have been there to witness it for over a decade, as Startuplifers has sent over 250 Nordic students and graduates to work for some of the most promising startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. For many of those who have taken the leap, the startup  experience has been life changing and has had a notable impact on their career paths.  But what is it really that distinguishes  startup jobs from other jobs out there? Here is our list.

1. You Get to Wear Many Hats – Responsibility and Ownership from Day One

Startups are often characterized by small teams, a growth mindset, and an entrepreneurial spirit. This usually means that working in a startup provides more opportunities to grow than a corporate job. Let’s take a real life example of one of Startuplifers’ alumni Lauri Hynynen who worked at a YC-startup called Backlift in San Francisco. Being the first employee at the company enabled him to work on various different projects from setting up a hiring process for the company to steering the startup through pivots with the founder. For Lauri, the experience was filled with unexpected turns, many responsibilities and a variety of tasks that made his experience rather unique. He later reflected back on his experience at Backlift and how it had had a positive impact on him:

“During my time at Startuplifers I learned valuable lessons about running a startup, confidence in my own abilities as an engineer and an entrepreneur”.
lauri hynynen. reasons to apply for a startup job
Lauri Hynynen
Software Engineer, Backlift

After his Startuplifers experience, Lauri joined Smartly.io as one of the their first employees helping the company to grow from 10 to 200 employees in just three years.  Later he founded his own startup called PrompterAI which was acquired by Matchmade where he currently works as a Product Lead. To hear Lauri’s full story, tune into his episode on LEAP podcast. 

2. Accelerated Career Development

It goes without saying that working at a startup enables faster career development as the environment often allows employees to take part in demanding projects that a traditional entry level  position would not offer. Conversely, people might think that working at a startup allows you to obtain a fancy title straight from the start but here, the experience definitely speaks louder than job titles as you will be able to contribute to the business all the way from strategy to implementation. In addition, you are constantly witnessing the results of your efforts in relation to the growth of the company.  This was true to Kenneth Blomqvist, a Startuplifers alumnus, who worked as a software developer at YourMechanic and later joined Webflow as one of their first employees:

“I joined a small startup with just a couple employees and saw it grow into a real business. I spent most of my time writing software and gaining a lot of programming experience which has been super useful in my career. Experiencing first hand how they run software companies in the big leagues pushed my ambition level way up.”
kennethblomqvist.reasons why you should apply for a startup job
Kenneth Blomqvist
Software Engineer, Webflow

From Startuplifers to winning Apple Design Award

Startuplifers alumnus Ilari Niitamo, kickstarted his career as  a software developer at Findery, a geotagging social media platform based in San Francisco. After his experience at Findery, he co-founded a mobile app company for children called Pintxo Creative and YATATOY which resulted in him winning the Apple Design Award in 2018. Ilari’s story is definitely an inspiration for many and it goes without saying that working at a startup during the early years of his career had a major impact on where he is today:

“I think the Startuplifers experience affected my career immensely. My work after Startuplifers has been mostly entrepreneurial, so I wasn’t necessarily recruited into any big corporation or anything. Still, being an alumnus has opened many doors. Having worked in a real role in a tech startup company in San Francisco definitely carries weight in the job market. At least in Helsinki, it’s quite a rare feat and people do take notice. Expect to be continuously headhunted and propositioned after you complete Startuplifers.”
ilariniitamo.reasons why you should apply for a startup job
Ilari Niitamo
Software Developer, Findery

To hear Ilari’s whole story, listen to his episode on LEAP podcast.

3.  Unique Work Culture

As startups tend to be formed by  small teams, the company culture can be very unique with teams closely collaborating with each other. The flat organizational structure in startups encourages decision-making in a team while it also allows employees to take ownership of  their own work. Moreover, as teams tend to be small, the startup environment enables people to exchange ideas quickly and effortlessly, contributing to creative ideas and innovative approach to things. Now, this type of culture might have been true prior to the Covid-era, but how about now considering that working from home has become the new normal for many of us? 

We asked Emmi Linkola, who joined a remote company called Safetywing where she works as a Frontend Developer.  According to her, remote work does not  have an impact on the company culture:

“If the biggest thing you are after is the startup mindset, then whether the job is remote or at an office doesn’t change that. The work is still the same. If you trust yourself and go into a good team that will support you remotely, there is nothing to worry about.”
Emmi Linkola. Reasons why you should apply for a startup job
Emmi Linkola
Frontend Developer, Safetywing

To learn more about Emmi’s remote role at Safetywing, check out this article.

4. Start Contributing from Day One

While the direct impact of your work might be hard to notice while working at large companies, in startups you are likely to start contributing and seeing the results of your work from day one. Moreover, being able to witness your contributions from the  very start can be a driving factor to develop your skills. Conversely, the mistakes that you make can be spotted quickly. However, we all know that making mistakes is often the best way to learn and can only help you to identify areas that need refining. Startuplifers alumnus, Oskari Mantere worked as a software engineer at Notable Labs where he was able to develop his skills without limits:

"The most exciting part of working at a startup for me is that there is so much room for professional growth, with little bureaucracy to put limits on your ambition.“
oskari. reasons why you should apply for a startup job
Oskari Mantere
Software Engineer, Notable Labs

5. Develop the Skills Needed to Run Your Own Startup

You might have aspirations of creating your own startup, but may not have the confidence to make the leap. Well, in this case you might wonder where you can get the first taste of what running a startup might look like. The answer is: get a job in a startup, develop the skills you need and most importantly, reflect what it takes to be a startup entrepreneur. At Startuplifers, we have many real life examples of our alumni, who became entrepreneurs themselves after working in Silicon Valley. For many of them, working at a startup was a turning point and inspired them to put their skills  into action. Staying true to our mission to build the next generation of builders, it has been great to see our alumni start off companies and/or being among the first employees in companies like Wolt, Huxhunt, Linear app, YOU-app, and Meru Health.

startuplifers on demand

Final Thoughts

As there are benefits to working at startups, there are naturally some downsides too. As mentioned earlier, working in an early stage startup can be quite chaotic as growth is often built relying on limited resources. These facts can sometimes have a direct effect on work stability as well as salary and work hours. However, as every job has its downsides, we believe that generally the experiences gained from working at startups override any negatives. Startuplifers alumni agree that the startup experience has had a positive impact on their career.

To hear more stories about working at startups as well as inspirational career stories from Silicon Valley, tune into LEAP podcast, a cosy life and career podcast with host Pauliina Alanen, a Startuplifers alumna herself.

Are you interested in applying for a startup job?

If you are eager to apply for a job in a startup, see our open positions today or send us an open application. If you didn’t find a matching position this time, subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about future openings.

Ready to start looking for a startup job on your own? We know that sometimes looking for the best startups to work at can seem like a challenge. That is why we put together a Startup Job Hunting Guide, A comprehensive how-to-guide capturing everything from what a startup is to how to find a job in one, to starting a job remotely. Get your guide here.