Landing a job at a startup can be the chance of a lifetime. You will not only witness the beginnings of a great success story, you’ll be a part of it--right? Well, we certainly hope so. However, to join a startup is to take a risk, and you want to be well informed before taking it. The interview process is as much for you as for your potential employer--that is, you should walk away feeling confident that you know what you’re in for should you take the job.
Here are a few questions we recommend asking during the interview process:
1. What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
Knowing the answer to this question can help you decide if you truly buy into the idea behind the startup. It tells you, essentially, what the product does. You should wholeheartedly believe in the product in order to invest yourself in the future of the startup.
2. What is your unique selling proposition?
A company’s unique selling proposition, or USP, is what sets it apart from the competition. You want to be sure that probability of another party deciding to do the exact same thing in the very near future is low.
3. Who are your current shareholders?
You’ll want to research the background and success rate of the company’s directors. Have they run or advised successful startups in the past? Knowing which smart or strategic investors are already on board can help you make your decision.
4. At your current burn rate, how many months of operation can you finance before our next round of funding?
Any startup that you join should be properly funded, and its burn rate--the rate at which the company uses up its supply of cash over time--is a key factor in its sustainability. Good management handles cash well. If the answer is anything less than 12 months, this may be a reason to ask more details on the financing plan and upcoming rounds.
5. What is your growth strategy?
Making sure that the startup has one is the key here. Don’t join a company that doesn’t have a plan in place and great ambitions. This question may lead into one about a sales strategy--how does the startup plan to monetize?
6. Has anyone already left the company? If so, why didn’t it work out?
Knowing why the startup wasn’t a good match for former employees offers a glimpse into company culture. You may want to narrow the scope of the question and ask about your position specifically: If the position already existed, why did the last person leave? If it is a newly created position, who has been doing the work up to now?
7. What does the office look like at 9 p.m.?Again, this question gauges company culture. Everybody knows that joining a startup means working less regular hours than at a more established, traditional corporation. But if the office looks the same at 2 a.m. and 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, you’ll have a good reason to ask the next question.
8. Do you have an equity plan in place for the staff?
Extra miles in terms of involvement and commitment are often expected from startup employees, but often with no additional compensation via salary or overtime. Some startups make up for this by offering equity or stock options in the company to their employees; the bigger it gets, the better for all! Find out what’s on the table before entering into salary negotiations.
9. What are the long-term goals, and what is your exit strategy?
It is a possibility that the startup will be brought to IPO or will be bought by a larger player in the industry. You will want to know if it is their objective to sell in the next two years, as this could affect your position within the company. There’s nothing wrong with a startup having an exit strategy, but make sure its timeline fits with yours.