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Are Startups Worth It: Mission vs Engagement

A common argument for joining a startup is to work on something meaningful — taking on risk, lower pay and longer hours to work on a fulfilling mission.

A similar reason is used to argue you shouldn’t join a startup. Most startups aren’t making the world a better place, and it’s just a job, stick with something less risky, better paid and more comfortable. 1

It’s true most startups aren’t changing the world. Often, the product is valuable but boring — a successful SaaS tool makes the lives of its customers easier, but it’s not world-changing. Sometimes the mission is downright bullshit — elevating the world’s consciousness anyone?

If the mission isn’t meaningful, are startups worth it?

I believe they are, because the day-to-day is much more engaging. You can focus on building and shipping things with minimal obstacles. You are close to your customers. You directly impact the outcomes of your team. You move fast with high autonomy. Everyone works towards one goal. Those things make you engaged, and being engaged makes you feel fulfilled.

On the other hand, the corporate world is full of things that actively make us disengage. Being distracted by frequent meetings and overbearing processes. Realising that the work doesn’t matter. Being far removed from customers. Feeling that everything takes longer than it should. Seeing broken things and not being able to fix them. Spending energy on internal politics instead of building things. To cope you have to disengage, and you can’t feel fulfilled.

You can argue that not all startups and not all corporations are like that. A chaotic startup with a micromanaging CEO and daily changes in priorities is stressful, not engaging. A well-managed team working on an interesting problem inside a big company can be fulfilling. There are exceptions.

On average though, the difference in engagement holds. And because it is much more engaging, working at well-run a startup can be incredibly fulfilling regardless of the mission. It’s worth a try.

  1. For example https://every.to/napkin-math/you-probably-shouldn-t-work-at-a-startup-9387b632-345c-4a22-bac0-3cb92f0eecf1