Why Work for a Startup?

By Matt Cynamon

Sometime around 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, a massive shift began to take place across cities, small towns, and universities.

As the comforts and securities of traditional careers began to dry up, excitement in the tech-startup world was reaching a fever pitch. These companies seemed to spin up overnight, raising millions of dollars and impacting millions, if not billions, of people. By 2009, with the economy still reeling, more new businesses were formed than during any time in the previous 15 years. Playing the “safe route” in traditional industries wasn’t safe anymore; the wealth of new opportunities emerging in the tech-startup world transformed how people conceived of, and built, their careers.

One of the more the famous stories from this period was that of Instagram, a two-year-old photo-sharing app with 13 employees that was bought by Facebook for $1 billion. To put this into comparison, Walmart, which had thousands of employees, hundreds of physical locations, and almost 30 years of history, was worth only $31 million in 2017’s dollars when it was first listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1970. Never before could a company get started so quickly and cheaply and be worth so much.

But it wasn’t just speed and money that fueled the growth of tech startups. There was also a larger cultural shift in what people wanted out of their careers. Flexibility, freedom, meaning, and purpose started to become intertwined with people’s career aspirations. Tech startups provided the perfect respite for all of this. The small size of the organizations allowed for jobs in which one could work intimately with teams and technology that had the potential to impact millions of people across a broad range of industries.

Since the Great Recession, startups and startup jobs have become a major force in society and nearly all net new job creation. They’re sexy, growing, and provide an opportunity to find meaning and purpose in your work (and sometimes even get you rich).

How I Paved My Path in the Startup World

When I was 24 years old, I landed a job at a 15-person startup as a part-time contractor selling unused inventory for a small commission. It was barely enough money to pay the rent. Within four months, I was sent overseas to launch the company’s office in London. Within one year, I was running all of its operations in Europe, and three years after that I was the head of a global business unit that touched tens of thousands of customers. Now that tiny startup — General Assembly — employs over 500 people and trains individuals and corporate teams in many cities across four continents.

More important to me than the roller-coaster-type growth I experienced is how much I loved working at that startup. It challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged before. I worked on incredible projects that changed people’s lives, I got experience across a broad range of opportunities that would have never been afforded to me at a more mature company, and I got to work with some of the smartest, most ambitious people I’ve met in my life. While I may not work at General Assembly today (though I’m still a proud part of the community), I was inspired by that experience to write an eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup.

How to Break In to the Startup World

If you’re reading this, you probably want in to the world of startups — for your career, for your spirit, for your future. Working for a startup company world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In How to Get a Job at a Startup, you’ll get a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Ready to dive into the startup world?

Learn how to start your journey in our exclusive guide.