Why You Should Work at a Start-up

Published  December 30th, 2013

I started my career at a Global 500 company. After working there for a year, I realized that if I were to not show up one day, it wouldn't affect the company in the slightest. There were a dozen engineers that did exactly what I did. In the grand scheme of it all, I was insignificant.

Influencing Outcomes

At a start-up, every day matters. Every day you have the possibility of making a big impact. You could suggest the feature that helps your start-up cross the chasm. You could read about and implement a small SEO change that doubles your organic traffic. At a start-up, every person at the company is significant.

At thredUP, we have a two-hour, open forum product meeting every other Thursday. Anyone can come to this meeting and ask questions about our product, pitch new ideas, and/or collaborate on other people's ideas. The future of an idea or feature can hinge on whether you rally behind it or make a compelling case for why we should go in that direction. At a start-up, you have a voice and that voice can influence outcomes. When you exercise your voice and influence an outcome, you're single-handedly changing the direction of the company and as a result you're embedding yourself into the company's DNA. This is why people who work at start-ups care so damn much about the companies they work at.

It's not just the product that you can influence. When you work at a relatively small start-up, you're able to influence the culture that the company will be built upon. Every element of thredUP's culture was conceived by an employee. Board game night Tuesday, work from home Wednesday, free lunch Thursday, developer show and tell Friday. When I joined over 3 years ago, none of those existed. Every time our start-up hires someone new, we are infusing them into our culture and as a result they are helping shape the future of our culture.


Having autonomy in regards to how you work is one of my favorite aspects about working at a start-up.

For engineers in particular, greater autonomy is given for how you do your job. Start-ups don't have time to bake out every detail of every component for each project. This means engineers are able to think freely and critically on the best way to design and implement the architecture for their project. This requires creativity and problem solving for each engineer, which most can agree is much more stimulating than cranking out a meticulously detailed technical spec. document. There's also an element of ownership that exists since each story's implementation was decided by you. More ownership = more pride = better quality.

Having control over the little things matters too. At a start-up, you can control what computer you use, what software you use, when you go to lunch, when you go to the gym, whether you want to listen to music while you work, etc. These seem small, but in aggregate they create an optimal work environment. The more you enjoy your work environment, the more you look forward to working. It's a win for you and the company.

Professional Growth

Professionally speaking, there are many reasons why a start-up is the right choice for you if you're ambitious.

For one, you're going to be exposed to many different areas of responsibilities. Start-ups don't have the luxury to hire people that specialize in one area so it's expected you'll be a generalist. As a generalist engineer, you're able to work all over the technology stack ranging from front-end to back-end to deploying to server configurations. You're exposed to project management, product development, and customer insight analysis. If you work as a generalist engineer for a year or two, you'll be equipped with enough knowledge to do your own start-up.

Another reason working at a start-up might be the right choice for you is if you're looking for opportunities to take on responsibilities that you might not be qualified for.

During my first year, our engineering team was growing quickly and my manager, Chris Homer, had his hands full running the team while ramping up our new engineers. Then, unexpectedly, we had a new intern who joined with zero Rails experience. Knowing Chris was slammed, I asked if I could mentor our new intern and ramp him up even though I was under qualified to do so at that time. Chris gave me the chance and coached me through it and as a result I've been responsible for ramping up every new engineer that has joined our Web team since then. If you find a start-up like thredUP with founders that embrace their employee's professional growth, your opportunities to further your career will be endless.

The last thing that's worth mentioning about working at a start-up is the visibility you have within the company. Regardless of position or level, everyone at a start-up interacts with the executive team on a regular basis. If you want to ask the CEO a question, you just get up and walk to their desk. There are no barriers or closed doors dividing the tiers of the company. If you lead a project and it turns out well, everyone at the company knows that you were responsible for it so you never have to worry about whether the 'higher-ups' know how hard you're working or the contribution you're making. This visibility eliminates the need for playing politics or trying to steal the limelight from others, which are poisonousness to a team.

Start-ups aren't for everyone, but if you've never worked for one, I highly recommend looking into it.

If thredUP sounds interesting to you, we're hiring. We have two positions available on our Web engineering team, a Rails Engineer opening on our Warehouse Operations engineering team, and an iOS Engineer opening.