Interviewing At A Tech Startup? The Only Question That Matters

Whether you want to join a startup technology company or perhaps launch one yourself, I'm sure a few hundred questions will flash through your mind. But ultimately, there's only one question that matters. That's right: Ultimately, you only need to ask (and answer) one question before potentially jumping into the startup waters.

The question:

How long will my spouse and my family support this decision and lifestyle?
— You

Sure, there are dozens of additional questions related to finances, strategies, talent, leadership, culture, etc. But ultimately, the startup life is a lifestyle. It impacts just about everything around you -- especially your family.

If your family is hesitating before you make the career move, the situation can become overwhelming once you're treading water in the startup ocean. Let's look at two scenarios:

1. You're Launching Your Own Business

Here, you want to get your own family's financial house in order before you launch the business. You want to run your household finances like a business -- understanding where every dollar goes today, what costs you can eliminate, and what costs are on the horizon. 

If at all possible and reasonable, get rid of all credit card payments, car debt, etc., long before you seek to open your business. Also, you'll need to build up a personal financial war chest. Sure, you need money FOR the business. But you're also gonna need a financial cash reserve at home -- basically, you need to know you can live on financial fumes while you burn money and time in the startup.

The big question: How long will your spouse and family accept the fact that you'll have no income during the company's launch? How long should that "no income" stage last? And how long is it reasonable to pursue your dream before realizing that perhaps it's time to throw in the towel and "get a real job"?

Answer those questions before you launch your business and you'll potentially avoid a lot of family heartache down the road.

2. You're Joining a Startup

You've got stock options on your mind. You've read about big IPOs for decades, now you want a part of the action.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Joining a startup is NOT about the potential outcome. It's about the journey. That means you better enjoy working crazy hours, getting involved in all pieces of the business (both strategic and tactical), and perhaps even getting strung along.

That's right. Startup management may try to sell you on the dream -- vesting, IPO, or M&A within a few years. But each year, the "exit" gets pushed back another year. And the big payday you're pursuing may never materialize.

With or without the big payday make sure you're going to enjoy the journey. And make sure your family knows what you're signing up for -- the commitment, the time lost at home, a moving target for an exit, etc.

I've got a rule of thumb in business: No matter what career decision you're mulling, it's typically safe to move forward as long as there's a clear, safe path back home. If that path ever disappears, it's time to re-evaluate everything in your life.

Subscribe: Want to receive our blog headlines in your inbox each business day? Then subscribe to our enewsletter. Thanks to those who already have.