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Max Ong Zong Bao
Max Ong Zong Bao

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Which Stage of a Startup Should I Join?


When it comes to startups, there is literally tons of consideration when you plan to join a startup as a developer. If you are young and getting started in the industry. I would suggest that you look internally on what is your aim in joining a startup. Are you looking for technical knowledge, the environment, dipping in different things besides software development, your own aspiration to start your own startup someday??

As knowing your own comfort level and the intent that you plan to get out of it helps a lot. In your own search for the type of startup, you might want to be in. Besides just looking for a salary that is above the average market rate. Which is usually reserved for a late-stage startup of series A and above or well-funded startups.

VC Funded vs Bootstrapped

The first indicator of a startup is how they get their capital. Either from investing rounds with VCs or directly from their customers. Through the products or services that are provided by the startup. To me and along with a few CTOs that I know will actually prefer a startup that is bootstrapped and has found product market by selling their product or services to clients. As it helps the startup ecosystems to filter away these startups with very fluffy pitches through the use of buzzwords. Since it helps a lot in their runway and it is more attractive for VCs.

Especially in these times where multiple high profile startup frauds are in the news, given the black swan event we are going through. They might be on a hunt for cockroach startups. Always remember that the purpose of funding is to fuel growth and entrancement of an existing or new market. Due to the value that is provided to the customers because they had founded their product market fit.

Doing a Tour of Duty

Always think in terms of tours of duty when your working for a startup at 2 to 4 years. As it helps you to be mindful of what you are doing it for and your working relationship with your employer is not as a transaction relationship.

Instead, it is a working relationship between you and your employer on how you grow yourself, your network with full support from your employer. When you are in the company or after you had left to help you open doors for you.

If you find that your employer is unwilling to offer you full support in growing yourself & your own professional network. I would suggest that you seek another employment. Where they are treating you on an equal footing to open doors when you are still working for them or had left the company with interest to support your growth every step of the way.

Early Stage vs Late Stage Startup

Remember when I first started with the article on the need to look internally at your intent & comfort level for joining a startup? This is precisely the reason why I would suggest that you look at it. As each stage of a startup, offers different benefits.

Like if it's an early-stage startup. Usually, the first 10 employees must possess some personal traits of being scrappy, resourceful, intrapreneur or entrepreneurial tendencies, with a get shit done attitude. Due to the risk is high in an early-stage startup but comes with better rewards due to the stock options and wealth of experience they gain through the early stages of a startup.

For a late-stage startup, it will transit into a process-driven company who had found their product-market fit. With heavy emphasis to cater for hyper-growth in repeating, reducing the cost of delivering a product or service or entrenching their market position to gain market shares. Therefore it will require multiple specialists and process-driven oriented people to join them to build or improve their system for growth, revenue or profits. If you want to get a sense of how it looks like you can take a look at Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman that talks about it in detail for late-stage startups.


I hope that the articles provide you with some clarity on what stage of a startup it should fit you. In regards to the work arrangement between the employer and employee for tours of duty. It is talked about detail by Reid Hoffman in the called The Alliance.

For Blitzscaling, one thing that I really like about the book is his explanation of the 3 types of startup employee needed in various stages of a startup:

The Marines - A go-getter who assaults or secures beachheads. By opening a new market or get things done regardless of the obstacles or challenges that it may be there to do it.

The Army - A person who focuses on capturing & hold strategic locations. They do it by working with marines by entrenching their market and securing vital resources needed for the growth & operations of the startup.

The Police - The person who maintains the security of the captured land. They do this by setting up the processes to reduce cost, improve operations, maintaining relationships with their existing partners & customers, maintain the market share of the industry.

Lastly, I will stress it that comfort comes with a sense of security. Therefore, please do read The Richest Man in Babylon to prepare for the worst unexpected events. That life will hit you like job loss, falling sick, caregiving for your loved ones or black swan events.

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Discussion (4)

simpleauthority profile image
Jacob Andersen

The first one I joined was utterly terrible. It had no structure. 3 employees. I was the lead dev and basically ran the show because the other two had no idea what they were doing. In hindsight, utter mistake. I'm not sure how you'd even classify it. Thanks for writing this though, I'll check it out later.

steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao Author

Most people have a combination of it, I'm pretty sure you fail under marine who focus on getting things done regardless of the obstacle.

steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao Author • Edited on

Hahaha in this article Breaking into Startups as a Developer it contains a checklist about how to find it. Which comes from my personal experience in sitting through almost 100 over pitches in doing your own due diligence when finding these startups that can fit you.

This slides who I gave to my alma mater has a section called Words of Wisdom from the people in Singapore's startup scene who had experience in startups.