Is it worth trying to advance as a late hire in a faltering startup?

I joined a small tech-based startup in a junior technical role a year ago, thinking it was a foot-in-the-door. It’s turned out that the organization is very flat–close to half the people have been there over five years, and close to half the employees have management titles–with minimal income (< 50,00USD) and measley investor backing ( < 5M USD). The company’s pivoted and changed tacks several times, with no success.

It’s also turned out that my job is “code monkey”. The only thing keeping me from skills atrophy is spending about 1-4 hours a night doing saw-sharpening at home, which is making me nuts. I’m actively looking for work, but personal circumstances make it hard to pick up stakes, and I’ve had trouble securing remote jobs.

I’ve got two questions. 1. Do companies like this ever recover? 2. If they do, is it likely that opportunities will open up, or is it more realistic to expect a meet-the-new-boss scenario? 3. What’s a way to keep my sanity intact while I look for a better opportunity?


  • If I were you I would leave as soon as possible. Your stake in the company is likely so tiny that even if they have a good exit, you won’t make much money.

    • This.

      Your stock options don’t mean shit. Yeah, the google chef is now a millionaire, but so are a bunch of people who hit the powerball. So’s that lady who spilled her coffee at McDonald’s. Lottery ticket odds don’t count. Do the job because you like the job, and because you’re getting paid to do the job. Only go broke for companies you founded. Period.

      One of the real advantages to working for a startup, especially early in your career when the lack of compensation isn’t going to hurt so badly, is that you can get in way, way over your head as a junior developer. That’s a good thing. It will make you strong in ways that just turning the crank at BigCo never will.

      If the company is bad and you’re not being challenged in serious ways, get out now and leverage your experience for a bump in salary, title, responsibility. You have to leave to get that bump. It’s a sad testament to our economic model, but it’s the truth.

  • Companies do execute stunning near death recoveries or successful pivots – the famous being OMGPop and Instagram. However only you can figure out if that’s the case with your company since you’re there. Do they have a credible team? Is the CEO able to convince potential customers to try the product?

  • Consider your opportunity cost of staying at your job. What are you giving up? And why? If the numbers and your rationale do not make sense, then move to better opportunities. Life is short. Spend your time wisely.

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