To work for a startup, you need to be very aware of the amount of work/stress you’ll need to face. That said, working for any company should not be as stressful as it is with most Nigerian startups. There’s a general idea that it’s quite hard to find a good employee at a startup and that it’s even more difficult to keep them happy while working. This, when we look at the reality of small businesses and startups, cannot be regarded as far-fetched. To put this in proper perspective, we’ll look at the problems most startups have in common.

1. Lack of funding

The startup game is a risky business, and for many entrepreneurs navigating the competitive landscape and securing the funding needed to survive is a significant hurdle that isn’t easily overcome, mostly till the innovation dies a natural death. The truth is, there is a limited amount of funding available to startup founders, and even the angel investors [read: family and friends] who are usually present aren’t as forthcoming anymore. And this is for good reason; because most innovations don’t outlive their first year.

All of this, in turn, have a ripple effect on the employees in the startup as salaries are not paid when due, investments are not made in the right parts of the company to ensure growth, people are not motivated etc.  

What can you do?

First, ensure you’re doing your best at work to actually make money for the organization. It’s a startup and you bought into the vision, otherwise, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. So yes, go out of your way and try to do more than just punching the clock alone.

Another thing you can do as an employee is to save aggressively; make it a habit. Putting a part of your earnings away for the rainy day can never be a bad idea. While working for a startup, having extra cash is always a lifesaver as you never have to run around borrowing for the next month when your salary hasn’t ‘showed’.

Also, to avoid being stranded in the first place, make a budget of what you need for the month and never outspend your budget, because if you do, well, the consequences are obvious.

On the flipside, your savings can now be put to use to start a side gig because you never know when you won’t be paid until the middle of the month.

Finally, do your best at work to actually make money for the organization. It’s a startup and you bought into the vision, otherwise, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. So yes, go out of your way and try to do more than just fulfilling your end of the bargain alone.

2. Lack of leadership skills

Disruptive ideas of young startup founders may work wonders but it’s equally important to be able to run the organization properly and gainfully, not into debt. There are numerous examples of startup founders with spendthrift founders/CEOs who when the company makes X amount of money, 70% goes straight to the boss’s personal purse instead of putting it back into the business.

Also, there are cases of bosses who outrightly lack people skills. All they founded the startup on is their innovative idea which in reality is never enough. They end up hiring the wrong people or mismanaging the right ones.

What can you do?

In this case, there’s little you can do as an employee. However, you can learn to take every opportunity to speak out during meetings (startups have a lot of these). Try not to sound like a judge but endeavour to put your two cents on accountability and sustainability across wisely.

Also, find ways to motivate yourself and others, whether or not you’re in a leadership role, cultivate people skills consciously to ease your relationship with people who might also be frustrated from your boss’s lack of leadership skills. A little ‘Kumbaya’ will go a long way.

3. Employee abuse

Workplace abuse is behaviour that causes workers emotional or physical harm. Harassment, discrimination, bullying and violence are forms of workplace abuse. These behaviours aren’t always distinguishable from one another because they frequently overlap.

However, with a startup, these are not the common types of abuse. The common ones are with founders that work 18 hours a day in the early stages of their business, they put everything in it – their money, resources and most importantly time, which is okay as a founder trying to make their dreams successful but they tend to forget that the employees they hired are not entitled to do the same (except when stated as a requirement for the job).

It is popularly said that to whom much is given, much is expected which translates that much has to be given for it to be expected. Clearly, the reverse is the case with most startups here in Nigeria. Little is given as compensation and you’re expected to go above and beyond for your company.

What can you do?

This might sound counter-intuitive but for a young person, this is good for you (well maybe not financially). You get to learn on the job and acquire all the knowledge that you might not have access to if you were working with a bigger organization. That said, it can become frustrating especially when you lack the skills required for specific tasks; in this case, you should speak to your Line Manager/HR frankly about your duties, your fears with regards to not having the required skills, the training you need and the compensation you deserve.

Even as you do this, ensure you don’t just go through the startup, constantly work on improving yourself, always ask questions when confused and be open to corrections.

In reality, working with startups avail you the opportunity to develop yourself. So, here’s what I’ll say to you: accept the challenge of being ‘used’, take responsibilities thrown at you, learn from the mistakes and successes of the startup and who knows, it might help you build a better company in the future and if not, it’ll definitely help you get a better job. If there are other measures you’ve taken to cope within a startup, kindly share with us in the comment section, trust me, we all need it.