I’ve been working in the startup ecosystem for more than a decade as both an investor and operator. Given my somewhat unique experience, I am asked reasonably frequently for advice about finding the right startup to join and how to negotiate the right startup job offer. Startup negotiation is different from a big company, so below is a consolidated set of advice, tips, and resources for people wondering how and what they should negotiate for.
Let’s start with the obvious — finding a job is stressful. Like with any job search, finding a job at a startup is a time-consuming and exhausting process that can include research, networking, multiple phone screens, assignments, and Zoom interviews (and hopefully one day soon, on-site interviews). Startup job searches also have an added layer of complexity since you need to figure out whether the company has what it takes to last. What’s the team background? What traction has the product seen in the market? How early in the product-market fit life cycle is the business? How much funding have they raised? I’ll get into the startup search process another time. What I want to focus on for now is what to do after you get a job offer.
There is a strong temptation to accept the first offer presented, especially if it feels reasonable. It makes sense! After all the work to this point, getting an offer feels like a weight has been lifted, the hard work has been done. And after all, you don’t want to seem greedy or petulant, rub your new colleagues the wrong way, and walk in to work on the first day as “that person.” Why not take it? Because you’d be selling yourself short.
Getting an offer is the most definitive signal that the company wants you. They have spent time, money, and effort trying to fill a spot on their team. Your signing an offer is the end of a journey, both for you and the company. The faster you sign, the faster someone on the other side can move on to the rest of their to-do list (and, if an external recruiter referred you, the quicker they get paid). What does that mean when it comes to negotiating your offer? You’ve got leverage, and it’s time to use it.