What's the dark side of working at a startup? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question.

Answer by Patrick Mathieson, VC at Toba Capital, on Quora:

Well, first off, the characterization people often provide of startup life (glamorous perks, world-changing blah-blah-blah) is mostly just marketing designed specifically to convince you to either work at a particular company or buy that company's products. The reality of startup life is rarely like this.

It's kind of like commercials for Disney World. The branding is Fun! Family! Ice cream! But the reality is Lines! Sweat! Crying children! It costs a fortune! Whoops, your 2-year-old just vomited on your shoulder!

Let's refute these points one-by-one:

  • Myth: Glamorous perks. Reality: Sure, if you work at Google. But that's not a startup. Are granola bars "glamorous"?
  • Myth: Exciting pace. Reality: This can sometimes be true. However, keep in mind that the pace tends to only be breakneck when things are going really well ("hypergrowth", if you will), and at most startups, things are going awfully. Also, don't forget that "exciting pace" is one of those things that Goldman Sachs says about its hundred-hour-week analyst jobs. Furthermore, "exciting" pace is one of those things that people feel compelled to say about their work environment even if it isn't true. I hear plenty of startup employees talk up their "pace" and the "grind" even though they're out of the office by 4:30 every day.
  • Myth: World-changing products. Reality: Like many of the items on this list, this really only describes 2 or 3 out of 1,000 startups. Most startup products are purchased or used by nobody, and many others are just derivatives of pre-existing stuff. But yeah, if you work at Twitter, sure.
  • Myth: Groundbreaking ideas. Reality: See above.
  • Myth: IPO excitement. Reality: I just LOLed. Less than 100 technology companies will IPO this year...worldwide.
  • Myth: $$$ acquisitions. Reality: Ever heard of a Liquidation Preference?

On top of that, here are some more:

  • A high percentage of startups are mismanaged by their leadership (or the leadership just doesn't have the experience to really know that they're doing).
  • Sometimes this mismanagement actually constitutes fraud and embezzlement.
  • Investor bad behavior can screw everything up, too.
  • The odds of the (average) company failing are way, way, way higher than the chances it will become a profitable business or successful exit.
  • You can't rely on the press to tell you anything about the chances a company will end up doing well (try searching for articles about HomeJoy that were written more than 3 months ago).
  • Even if the company has a hit product, everything can still get screwed up by poor cash management practices that leave the company beholden to investor capital (which is unreliable).
  • Everything Gil wrote.

Sorry for the grim portrayal, but, you know, it's Monday.

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Published on: Nov 24, 2015