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How to avoid being one of those early employees that start-ups replace

How to avoid being one of those early employees that start-ups replace

John joined a hot enterprise startup, backed by a top venture capitalist. His job: close pilot deals with enterprise customers. Jess joined a software-as-a-service company backed by the same investor, to develop an inside sales process to convert individual users into enterprise clients.

Two years later, both John and Jess had closed key early clients. Jess was leading a department of 10 representatives, but John was replaced by an experienced sales director – quickly becoming the most junior member of his team.

What happened?

A paradox exists for early employees at high-growth companies: A chasm can separate the experience you gain creating a department and the experience required to scale that same department. Often, accomplishments at a 20-person-company cannot prepare you for a leadership role at a 200-person-company.

Sometimes, however, as for Jess, the 20-person job really is the best preparation for a 200-person job, providing a continuous path for career growth. The key is to recognize these opportunities in order to end up like Jess, not John.

To avoid John’s plight, ask two questions: Will entry-level activities and processes change when the company (and departmental) headcount grows tenfold? Does success in the role depend heavily on external relationships?

Continuous career trajectories exist in functions that require the same basic resources, activities and process for success, regardless of business or team scale; discontinuous trajectories exist in functions that need different skills depending on team size and company maturity.

For example, enterprise sales and software development both look very different between early-stage and at scale, while customer service or inside sales use the same processes with 1 or 1,000 employees. Being the person to develop, improve and teach the process for inside sales made Jess the best person to scale that process, while John’s skills at early-stage business development didn’t translate to selling an established product or managing a seasoned enterprise sales team.

So, what can you do if the job you’re applying for has a discontinuous career trajectory? Examine your priorities: If you’re happy as an individual contributor and want to focus on honing specific skills more than positioning yourself to grow into a leadership role, the difference between these two kinds of jobs doesn’t matter. But if, like John, you expect increased responsibility as a reward for success at a risky, early-stage company, you need to find a different role.


*Original Article: