How to move from startup to real job?
September 1, 2014 5:59 AM   Subscribe

A while back I asked a question about becoming better at a new job. I'm now hitting my quota for anonymous Qs so give me your best advice on how to plan to transition from this fabulous new job that has only one problem--no reliable pay check. Snowflakes inside.

I landed a job at a startup about 8 weeks ago.

I like the people; I like the job. I finally have health insurance (yay!) and am getting a ton of medical issues dealt with. Only it turns out that the startup is not sufficiently funded, which means deferred pay (i.e. skipped pay checks) is in my future.

Nobody warned me about this when I was hired. I knew my pay would be super low. But delayed for lack of funds? Nope, nobody said that.

* What can I do now to land a more stable job in the future, apart from updating my Linked In profile and contacting recruiters?

* How do I explain to potential employers why I am looking for a job after only 8 weeks? (I take confidentiality seriously, which is why this is an anonymous question.)

* How do I keep myself motivated to keep working, for now, at a place where the founders and top execs have equity in this company but I do not. Yet somehow I am considered unsporting for saying, "I can't work here without pay."

The friend who brought me in wants me to name a salary figure that he could raise to keep me here. But it's not that fun to be at a place where people with equity expect people without equity to suck up a lot of things, including (literally) no budget for any of the departments, the requirement that employees to use their own computers (I also brought my printer from home so I could have one at work), etc.

It's beginning to feel like I'm in a dead company walking and nobody else has noticed yet.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yikes. You may not get paid?

Start looking for another job now and if asked, tell potential employers that this company had cash flow problems and didn't pay staff.

How do you stay motivated when they're not paying you?

You look for another job.
posted by kinetic at 6:06 AM on September 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Actually, your current job has multiple problems. Deferred pay, aka expecting you to volunteer. Not providing you, in a tech company, basic equipment like a computer or a printer.

Are the founders and top execs paying themselves? The absolute first thing you do in a company is pay your employees. I am mad for you. Though it is not clear to me whether you assume there will be delayed paycheques or whether you actually know this.

Keep looking, tell your friend that your concern isn't the pay which you agreed to, but the lack of support for your actual needs. When looking, explain that the company was underfunded.
posted by jeather at 6:11 AM on September 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yep, just start applying other places. Either leave the start-up off your resume, or if the places you're applying are other tech companies, tell whoever interviews you that there were cash flow problems and they wouldn't pay you. Anyone who knows the start-up field at all will A. have heard this before, and B. not blame you at all for getting the hell out.

Also this is totally unfair and unacceptable of them, and just know that they're the assholes here, not you. Adult professionals do not work for free; decent people do not ask them to (unless it's volunteering for a non-profit or something like that). They're being emotionally manipulative in an attempt to extort your labor. Fuck them.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:36 AM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

OMG! Update LinkedIn, call recruiters, shit, walk out! They can't not pay you. I'd file for unemployment at the whiff of the first missed paycheck.

You can leave this job off of your resume, and when interviewing you can simply say, "I left my former position for a position at a start-up. I take confidentiality seriously, so I don't want to say what company I'm with, but they're underfunded. I'm seeking a position with a stable firm and that's why I was so interested in Foo position here with Bah company."

Don't stay and wait for it to get worse, run for the hills!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just another thought. Negotiating a larger salary, that you're not going to receive is NOT the correct answer here.

That equity these folks have in the company? Not worth anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:39 AM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you're being made to feel "unsporting" for working without pay, you are being manipulated. If you don't have equity, then you should be compensated accordingly, and it's very unprofessional for this company to suggest that you accept anything less.
posted by aparrish at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're not working for pay or for equity, then you're not an employee, you're a volunteer that they're illegally using to try to make money. Get out immediately and put your efforts into searching full-time for a real job.
posted by xingcat at 6:54 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you live, "deferred" paychecks may be illegal. You may want to consider your local (or federal) Department of Labor to determine whether or not it's even permissible for you to continue working without pay. IAAL IANYL.
posted by decathecting at 6:56 AM on September 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

When explaining to someone about your desire to leave and find a new job: uou don't have to give nitty gritty details about the financials. Just say, "They had serious cash flow problems, including the ability to pay employees." Nobody expects you to be a volunteer at your workplace!
posted by barnone at 6:59 AM on September 1, 2014

The iron rule of working for startups is: when the money stops, you stop.

Startups love to tell themselves heroic stories about working long hours with passion and dedication and low pay... or no pay. You can see how self-serving this is already. If they're not even able to give you gear, then they're not a startup, they're stone soup, and for the benefit of the founders, not you.

No interviewer will fault you for leaving because you weren't getting paid. If you need a polite way to say that you need to pay the rent, you tell them about the cash flow problems and say "I needed more stability in my life right now than the job offered" or "I have obligations that prevent me from accepting equity or deferred paychecks as salary".

Outside of startup culture, people tend to see the abusive working conditions as a little (or a lot) nuts, but they get that you're taking a risk with a potentially big upside, and hey, it's your life. But no one will fault you for walking away from it for reasons that keep everyone else out of that lifestyle.
posted by fatbird at 7:00 AM on September 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

It sounds like they're trying to not pay you AND not give you equity? That's not start up hardship, that's just exploiting people.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:04 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

On reading your previous question: yes, you are in a dead company. GTFO. Sales is incredibly important in startups--all jobs are, and you need to hire people who can do them, and you don't have ramp-up time, so you hire people who know how to do the job. Hiring people who don't know their roles, not paying them, not equipping them, and offering fictitious salaries is a sign that the CEO is either incompetent or a con man.
posted by fatbird at 7:07 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Piling on with everyone else -- get out. It's VERY likely that they're going to fail and that things will only get worse.

I think the person above has a great way to address this with folks interviewing you: don't put it on your resume, but in the interview (maybe even in the cover letter), tell the people considering hiring you that you've been working for a startup w/ cashflow problems.
posted by nosila at 7:52 AM on September 1, 2014

This is bananas. The low pay is supposed to be offset by equity. You're not working for a startup, you're being scammed.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:17 PM on September 1, 2014

I think you should consider calling yourself a contract worker if you don't have enough experience in this area and need to use this stint on your resume in some way. Just a thought.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:15 PM on September 1, 2014

The sooner you leave, the better. Here's why:

1) Most jobs have trial periods, where each side can walk away with few strings attached. For example, in many places, professional-level jobs have the first 3 months as a trial period. This is good for both sides because the interview process can only tell so much about how good a fit your hiring will be.

So if you leave asap, pretty much any recruiter will be understanding when you explain that it wasn't a good fit.

2) Normally I tell job seekers to continue working while they look for another job because having an income takes a lot of the pressure off (e.g. so you don't feel compelled to take the first offer that comes along). But your situation is different because you've begun feeling like a second-class citizen internally and realize it's decision time. You need to be upfront with your boss(es) with your feelings and if you still want to stay, give them the chance to make you a first-class citizen (and asap- see 1)) or you walk away. Incidentally, this slight probably wasn't intentional on the founders' part; they're usually learning as they go but that's no excuse. They're probably ignorant about other things that can effect you (and others) down the road. If you feel you were misled, don't even give them the chance to keep you. Just learn from the experience and move on.

And if you still want to specifically join another startup, read this:

How To Get Jobs At Startups
posted by jshare at 12:19 AM on September 2, 2014

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