Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Common misconceptions about life at a start-up

December 21, 2016

Free food, beanbags, pinball machines, parties, lie-ins, loads of money – that’s life at a start-up, right?

Well no, not quite. Not even close, in fact.

When we asked Tech City News editor Emily Spaven to dig into some of the most common myths and misconceptions about working at a start-up, she turned to Twitter and uncovered some pretty startling responses…

The number of people choosing to take a leap of faith and set up their own business or work for a start-up is on the rise.

The motivations behind this are many, from being really passionate about solving a problem, to just wanting to make a quick buck.

Whatever the motivation behind joining the start-up world, life when you’re actually in it certainly has its ups and downs.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what actually goes on, though. Let’s take a look at some of these myths.

Myth: Start-up life is chilled out and easy

Unfortunately, start-up life isn’t all about lounging around on beanbags leisurely drinking coffee or having hours-long games of table tennis.

Some people are under the illusion that working for a start-up is easier than working for a larger, more established company. Perhaps because start-up employees set their own rules and can choose their own working hours.

However, just because you don’t have set hours doesn’t mean you start late and clock off early. On the contrary, most of those working in start-ups work extremely long hours, late into the night.

Myth: You can do what you want

One thing is for certain, start-ups are great if you want to learn new skills. You get to wear lots of different hats – your job title may stipulate your role is one thing, but the reality is, you’ll have to chip in and help out in other areas of the business.

This all means your skill set expands rapidly and it’s extremely rewarding to know you can handle all these different tasks.

However, this doesn’t mean you can just do what you want all of the time.

Brenda Wong, from Debut, a student and graduate careers app, said: “[I] think that some people assume you’ll just have full control of your role and that you can do as you please, but start-ups that can scale have processes and structure in place that may, to some, restrict autonomy.”

Myth: Start-up life is all fun and glamorous

We’ve established that start-up life isn’t for those who are lazy, but it’s not for those craving constant excitement either.

Sure, there are some really exciting aspects to it, like working on something you’re really passionate about, but in reality a lot of it is dull. Slogging away, working long hours from your kitchen/bedroom/garage isn’t exactly the height of glamour or excitement.

Also, founders have to be clued up on a load of legal, regulatory, tax and compliance issues, so there’s a lot of dense material to get to grips with – expect long hours leafing through pages of legalese.

Myth: Start-ups drink endless free beer

 There are certain co-working spaces that have ‘free’ beer on tap. But it’s not really free – membership at these co-working spaces often doesn’t come cheap, so while you don’t have to pay there and then to top up your pint, you’ll pay handsomely through your membership fees.

There are also plenty of pictures floating around online of start-up networking events with free beer and smiling attendees. Networking is such a key part of start-up life, going to after-work events and hanging out with people working in a similar field can be super advantageous.

However, even if the beer is free at these events, most people know to take it easy, as doing the equivalent of three people’s jobs at once really isn’t fun on a hangover!

Myth: Gaining funding and traction is easy

There’s loads of money in tech, right? Well yes, not a week goes by without some tech company or another raising millions upon millions of pounds, but that doesn’t mean cash is just flying around willy-nilly.

Some people read about all these tech success stories and presume it must be easy to earn a crust in this industry. The reality is much different.

Reports vary on the ratio of start-ups that survive versus fail, but the bottom line is, the truth ain’t pretty. You could have an absolutely amazing product, but it could fail pretty quickly if you don’t manage to secure the kind of traction it requires.

Not all doom and gloom

Yikes. It wasn’t my intention to make this piece a heavy and depressing read. My point is that being in a start-up is really hard work, so it’s just annoying when people make assumptions that couldn’t be further from the truth!

It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, the hours are long and the mistakes are plentiful, but by god is it rewarding when you get things right.

Emily Spaven is editor at Tech City News, which covers developments in the UK’s burgeoning technology scene. She was previously managing editor at FinTech publication CoinDesk. Emily has also worked for Google and a FinTech start-up, so has first-hand experience of both ends of the tech company spectrum. Follow Emily on Twitter.

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