I'll begin establish some baselines that I use to describe the words in the title. I use Paul G.s definition of a startup, "startup = growth", and while comparing them with cults, I'm not talking about doing cult-like things, but having a cult-like behaviour at an organisational level. For this, I will be using the "drinking the kool-aid" phrase which is associated with the Jonestown cult.
At the start of everyone's careers, people have different perceptions about how companies are. Through the power of the internet, and through connections, I knew I didn't want to join the bureaucracy and dehumanisation of corporate life. On the other hand, I was also slightly put off by the cult-like behaviour put forth by most startups. (In open-source, the same behaviour is visible with maintainers and core contributors.) I did eventually make the decision to work with startups, and this article is the result of that experience.
Startups = Growth
In large companies, one can afford not being aligned with the larger vision or not understanding the impact of each task, but the same cannot be the case when you're working for a startup. The kind of conviction, dedication, and commitment needed to pull off what a startup aspires requires cult-like focus. This is also why a startups don't have managers, or hire them way later. Managers are there to make sure the work gets done and everyone is meeting their quota, which, in a startup environment isn't (and shouldn't be) required.
You HAVE to drink the kool-aid, or at least have your personal goals aligned with that of the startup, otherwise the startup world will chew and throw you out. On the other hand, if your magnetic lines are being reinforced by where you work, it's like a 🚀 for your personal growth and career strategy, as your work will stand out among the relatively little competition in the startup world. And this is why, if you're a growth-oriented person, you should work at a startup.
Startups = (Calculated) Risk
Startups are inherently risky. This risk means that startups are trying to attract a different kind of people. People who are willing to take calculated risks, and those who will have the most impact in helping the startup achieve their goals. So, an outward appearance of cult-like behaviour help them attract the "right" kind of people. This combination of a lot of smart risk-taking individuals working towards a common goal can also be seen as "culty" by the outside world.
This is also why startups appreciate talent and are more likely to hire people who can hit the ground running.
Startups Care About their Employees
In an optimal startup environment, everyone is aligned and self-driven. They are trying to create a huge outcome, and they want to achieve huge personal and professional growth in the process. The people who joined in the first year and stayed on all these years are all leaders managing a whole team or part of the company. These are all the initial folk who are experienced, smart, driven. But above all they are dependable and are aligned in their thinking of how the organisation should grow.
This also works because the startup also depends on the work of these employees. An employee is more likely to reach an irreplaceable stage at a smaller company than a larger one, and that's where startups come into the picture. To match the value that such an employee brings, the startup would have to train a new hire from scratch to reach that level. This is also why startups appreciate talent and are more likely to hire people who can hit the ground running.
Well, those are my thoughts for now 🙏. Writing is thinking, and I'm open to have discussions. Even if it convinces 1 person to join a true startup instead of an MNC or large corp, it has done its job right.
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These articles aren't written by a single person. Thanks to Preetam Nath, Deb Mukherjee, Shirish Joshi and Madhavi Swamy for helping proof-read this article and providing some of the discussion points which were used in the article.