Startup jobs are not for the weak hearted

Sameer Guglani
January 23, 2023
May 14, 2024

Back in 1999, I had a cushy software engineer, job at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Bangalore (a MNC) but I was getting super bored. I was looking after few components of  an old product, no new development was in pipeline, purely maintenance work.

On a working day, I spent 7-8 hrs in office & out of that nearly 5-6 hrs were spent talking to friends / drinking coffee/ checking mails / downloading songs & repeating some of these things, work only took 1-1.5 hrs of time every day. For a while it seemed like fun but then it hit me hard, “What the heck am I doing with my career? I am wasting day after day & not learning anything.”  I was young (22 yrs) & I realy wanted to face some challenges & to learn from them. During those days someone said to me “If you want to learn you should work for a startup. A startup is a new company with small number of people who are creating something for the future “.

Honestly, I didn’t fully understand what a startup is, but it resonated with me & I decided to give it a shot. I started looking for openings & fairly quickly landed an offer from a startup (Sonim) but in parallel I also got an offer from an established company (Celstream).  Now I had to decide. Like regular people I had my fears about working for a startup – will they pay me regularly, what if they shutdown in few months, there is no brand value etc. But there was something about the startup that was attracting me. In particular it was what one of the founders (Jai) said to me in the final interview.  

Think carefully before joining a startup, startups are not for

the weak hearted. Your offer letter will off course say 40 hrs

work week, but we will expect you to be around day & night

Actually with that line he was throwing a challenge my way. I decided to accept that challenge & took the offer. And, believe me, that was the best career decision I have ever made. I had the time of my life at Sonim. They were not offering me a higher salary than the established firm, but they were offering an adventure / a chance to create a part of the future / a chance to work with super smart people / a chance to fully immerse & do some crazy learning / a chance to work at a fun place – where they don’t look at what you wear & what time you come to office, they only care about performance. I joined at a lower salary as compared to the other (established) job offer, but within a year when they did annual appraisals – I got a 100% raise, the best in the company.

The transformation was amazing:

  • From a guy who used to work 1.5 hrs a day only on weekdays I went on to work 18 hrs a day, all days of the week (same with all my super smart colleagues)
  • From working on a ancient, soon to die, product I went to work on cutting edge solutions for the future (we were creating applications for GPRS  networks & GPRS was only available in Labs at that point)
  • I joined the server team as a software engineer but within 3 months one of the founders (sudu) told me he is creating a new team to work on handset /device side of things & he would like me to lead that team. I was unsure. I said that I don’t how to lead a team & I only have 2.5 yrs of experience. He said don’t worry about it I know you can do it, I will help you.
  • That’s the beauty about joining a startup in early days. You get to work with super smart founders and these guys can really airlift you. I mean this guy was a top hacker from Netscape – really awesome & he took me under his wing. After my parents, I consider him one my first real gurus along with another founder Jai
  • I ended up leading the devices team for the next 3 years, travelled across the world, worked with all leading handset & chipset companies of the world – Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, LG, TI, Infineon & many more.

I can go on & on about my amazing time at Sonim but I will stop here.  I had done 3 jobs before Sonim &  ran from each one in 7-8 months, but I stayed with Sonim for 3.5 years. I left after they raised too much money and the founders moved on other projects, but again I went to work for another startup (Telephia – acquired by Nielson). At sonim, I joined as employee number 19, I had loads of fun / amazing amount of learning / did lots of biz travel / made a habit to take on the giants in my industry / learnt a lot about startups & one day it lead to me doing my own startup (Madhouse) & now to The Morpheus.

Working for a startup is not for everyone, it is not a regular job, it is a lifestyle choice. Do you want to choose challenges, learning, creation, responsibility, adventure, chance of getting rich on equity over the “safe, cushy job”. If yes, then start looking now (shameless plug: many of the Morpheus portfolio companies are hiring).

Once you work for a startup & you enjoy it, you can never go back to work for a regular company. You will either work for another startup or you will start your own startup.

But if you are the weak hearted type, stay with your job, go visit, send your resume to a consultant or apply to an MNC.

Note: I am really thankful to the founders of Sonim & my amazing friends who worked with me at Sonim for the wonderful time. All of them are really smart & many of them are my best friends now.

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