It's Not for Everyone: Thoughts on Working for a Startup

I've enjoyed a 40+ year career that has spanned multiple job functions and sectors, including business development, consulting, and business solutions in technology, pharmaceuticals, accounting, and more. However, it wasn't until four years ago that I ever considered the idea of working at a technology startup.

I'm happy that I did: For the last four years, I've worked for the data management platform Reltio, and this period has by far been the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding period of my professional life.

My positive experience at Reltio can largely be attributed to working with an incredible team of people all focused on the same goal — but our market success and business growth haven't exactly hurt, either. Ultimately, the best part of it all has been making a difference for our customers.

Here are the four key lessons I've learned about working at a technology startup since I joined Reltio:

1. It's a Lot of Work

I totally underestimated the effort and dedication required to be successful at a startup. Whatever amount of work you think it will take, double it.

2. It's Not for Everyone

You need to be at the right point in your life in order to deliver what a startup will need from you.

3. Building a Successful Startup Is Like Climbing Mount Everest

This is how our CEO describes it. There are many routes you can take to the summit. Sometimes, you will need to stop, go back, and try a different route. The most important thing of all is to never give up. If you're going to work for a startup, you'll need to give it everything you have and be mentally prepared for setbacks.

4. You Must Believe 100 Percent in the Company's Mission and Vision

Otherwise, it will be very difficult to sustain your focus and effort.

I, personally, had no desire to work for a startup until I met our CEO. Understanding his vision, I knew I wanted to be part of the team and would regret it if I didn't join up.

What Every Startup Needs to Succeed

Startup success isn't just about you as an individual contributor; it's about the whole organization.

Based on my time at Reltio, here are the five key factors I believe all startups need in order to succeed:

Vision: Not every great idea will yield a successful startup, but without a great product vision, the odds of success will be very, very low.

Execution: A great product vision can easily fail without good execution. Making the right decisions about technologies, personnel, investors, and business strategy is critical.

Culture: Working for a company that really cares about its employees and focuses its efforts on customer and partner success is an incredible pleasure. Happy employees lead to productive and successful startups. Just remember: The culture must come from the top down.

Customers: A successful startup is more than just the technology. It's about people and relationships. A startup's core values should stress that all customers, partners, and employees be treated as family.

Partners: Tech startups need good partnership networks in order to scale and gain market share. Finding a handful of partners early on who believe in the product vision can have strong and lasting effects.

Gary Ryan is vice president of Reltio.