How to pick the right startup to work for

by Ryan Choi10/19/2021

I talk to a lot of people who are trying to figure out which startup to join. I want to share some of the advice I’ve been giving, and I hope it helps you navigate your own job search.

Ask about the company’s runway, burn rate and plans for future funding.

A company’s runway is the number of months that it has until it runs out of money. This can be determined by a number of things, including the amount of funding it raised, the amount of revenue it generates, and the expenses (or “burn”) it has in operating the business on a monthly basis.

There is no right or wrong answer — it really depends on your risk tolerance. But you probably want a startup that has enough runway to both endure the downturn and also raise its next round of funding.

Also note that while cash-flow positive businesses are in a good position to weather this storm, even startups like Stripe endured the 2009 recession, despite being largely unprofitable at the time.

Ask how the business is adapting to this new economic environment.

While many startups might falter during a tough economy, it’s important to consider which might thrive as a result of changed consumer behavior or market opportunities. A few examples:

As you speak with founders during the interview process, ask how the economy has impacted their business (for worse or for better) and what they’re doing to adapt so they come out strong on the other side.

Assess the founders, not just their answers.

We tell YC founders to be very transparent with candidates during the interview process. We feel this is important to build trust early on, and the trust will be reciprocated when they hire great employees who can use information to make strong business/product/engineering decisions.

As you interact with the founders and team, look for answers to your questions that are thoughtful and balanced — revealing both the pros and the cons of any scenario. You’re likely to get more detail as you get to the end of the interview process (the company has more invested in you at that point), so take the opportunity to ask questions throughout the process.

Joining a startup isn’t for everyone, and the above should help you better assess the startup you are considering. Go in with thoughtful questions, and hopefully you will walk away with trust in the founders to make good, thoughtful decisions — about the business, the product, the customers who use it and the team you work with to build it.

If you’re looking for your next role, you can fill out a profile at Work at a Startup to view YC startups that are actively hiring. We’re here to help.

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  • Ryan Choi

    Ryan works with YC companies to find great engineers — from 2-person startups to larger ones like Airbnb, Stripe and Instacart.