Startup life plays out across television (“Silicon Valley”), the big screen (“The Social Network,” “Steve Jobs”) and a million think pieces online. The creativity, freedom and sky’s-the-limit attitude can be enticing for those less inclined to climb the traditional career ladder.
Now more than ever, startups have a well-earned reputation for offering perks that are often unheard of in the corporate world: unlimited vacation days, in-office happy hours, creative environments to think and work, pet-friendly offices and flexible hours, just to name a few. And the outlook is optimistic: According to the 2016 State of Startups report, 9 out of 10 founders said it’s a good time to be starting a company and 18 percent of leaders are sure they’ll build the next billion-dollar empire.
However, according to The Millennial Economy, a recent study published by EY, 42 percent of millennials say they don’t have the financial means to start a new business. And with an 89 percent increase in the number of students taking on loans between 2004 and 2014, many millennials are too burdened with long-term debt to risk taking a job that might not pan out. It begs the question: Is it right for your wallet?
The unglamorous—and unstable—entrepreneur life
Is being one’s own boss a dream that’s mostly made for TV? On top of potential debt, consider long hours for little pay, weekend work, grueling projects and the ever-stressful race to secure funding—at least until that brilliant business idea becomes the next “unicorn.”
And for some entrepreneurs, that unicorn moment takes months to arrive. The founders of Airbnb had no idea what they stumbled upon until friends started showing interest in the idea. But convincing friends is one thing; convincing the public is a whole different hurdle. The reality is that an ecosystem of factors can cause startups to ultimately fail.
“The moment when we thought this idea wasn't going to work was the moment we came up with it. We thought, 'This'll work for one weekend to pay the bills while we come up with The Big Idea.' People still said it was absurd,” said Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky in an interview with The Atlantic.
Weighing risk vs. reward
What are the key considerations to make the financial decision to accept a lower paying, higher risk role—at least temporarily—and still meet your day-to-day commitments? For recent college graduates, joining a startup team might offer the same low wages and long hours as the low-level ranks of a major corporation—with a few extra perks (ping-pong table, anyone?). But for people mid-career or with a few starter positions under their belt, joining a startup comes with much more to consider—namely, whether the short-term risks are worth the potential long-term benefits.
“I was in magazine publishing, but it felt too corporate, too stuffy. When it was time to look for a new job I was only looking at startups, because I figured now is the time to put in the work for something that could potentially be a big payoff later,” says Michelle Collins, account manager at Teckst, a messaging-platform startup for customer care teams based in New York.
Putting in the work now is a common refrain for millennials starting or joining a startup team.
And for those who feel financially stable to take a risk, startup life can be rewarding in other ways. For Collins, passion played a major role in her decision to exit corporate life.
“It wasn’t about money; it was about finding passion again and being excited to go to work. I didn’t want to be chained to the desk; we have organic work hours, we have unlimited vacation days and an overall relaxed work environment,” Collins says.
Starting up or staying put
Even successful startup founders whose companies are now highly valued acknowledge the long and often arduous road it took to get where they are today. Beyond seeking the confidence and action plan to keep going, entrepreneurship is synonymous with unexpected expenses. Whether it’s renting office space, paying for website fees or printing costs, a cash-back or 0 percent APR credit card can take away some of the uncertainty.
“I think it was actually pretty challenging early on. There were a lot of people who just didn't believe in it, and we had to bang down a ton of doors, and we were really relentless,” says Vlad Tenev, Robinhood's co-founder and co-CEO, on Business Insider’s “Success! How I Did It” podcast. “We probably knocked on 75 doors before we actually made it work.”
Whether you’re planning to join the next generation of disrupters and tackle the unknown elements as they arise, stay within a traditional trajectory or just brainstorm your next career move, first arm yourself with the financial tools to help you get where you want to go.
And if you are looking to make the leap into the wild world of startups, now seems to be the right time: The top concern of founders is finding and hiring the best people for the company, and that just might mean you.