WorkWise: Job hunting at start-ups? Watch out

culp@workwise.netJune 30, 2013 

This Bethlehem, Pa., building owned by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pa Inc., houses 27 small start-ups. Entrepreneurial services manager Wayne Barz notes that while they tend not to have job openings, some job seekers capitalize on the facility’s community ties.


As the economy inches along in recovery, dreams of greater impact and/or equity may lure you into considering start-ups for possible employment. Are your visions realistic? They might be, if you’re careful.

Not every start-up will meet your requirements. Wayne Barz, manager of entrepreneurial services, has watched his award-winning business incubator, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast PA Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa., draw a number of job hunters. The 27,000-sq.-ft. facility houses 27 start-ups with two to four employees each.

“I see a lot of resumes and people out of big corporations looking for jobs,” he comments. “Often they show up saying they want to work in a start-up, but generally are networking with us because we’re connected to the community.”

He recalls lack of awareness about scale. Many didn’t recognize that small, young start-ups can’t offer a full-time executive salary. He adds, however, that under the best circumstances, some can afford a consulting fee of $1,000 to $2,000 per month.

In other words, full-time job seekers need to hunt for start-ups with funding. Expect major differences because of scale. “The notion of going to work in a start-up is interesting,” Barz observes, “but once inside, you’re in for a shock. There’s no marketing department, no accounting department. ...They really are not a good fit for most (corporate) people.”


Matt Bruno, director of independent sales at San Diego, Calif.’s Payment Logistics LLC, came from a Fortune 500 company with approximately 6,000 people under him when Payment Logistics was about five years old. While searching, he says, “I didn’t have problems explaining what I could do, but other businesses had problems convincing me that it was a good idea to get involved in their start-up.” The scope of his responsibilities has diminished to 1,000 employees, but he finds satisfaction in earning more money and having greater impact at this family-owned business.

An executive search firm that contacts you about a start-up will likely solve the salary problem through funded start-ups. Ted Konnerth, president & CEO of Egret Consulting Group Inc. in Mundelein, Ill., has represented at least 50 of them in the electrical manufacturing industry, where he reports hundreds of start-ups have emerged. He’s recruited candidates from established corporations.

Whenever Konnerth has raised the possibility of working “in an investment-backed company,” he reports, “the answer to that overwhelmingly is yes.”


Barz indicates that the growth posture of very small start-ups may have appeal. If they’re not funded, he recommends allowing for 12 to 15 months “with very nominal salary or none in exchange for equity. It might be a good fit for a certain period of time.” He explains that saving well, having a spouse working or receiving an inheritance may make this transition possible.

Konnerth advises job seekers looking on their own to become extremely familiar with the private equity community. “If you’re currently out of work,” he mentions, “assume this is a full-time job. Do internet research, which will be tedious, to identify which companies have investments in start-ups. Start in your industry and sift through the information. Go through web sites.”

He points out that most equity firms are involved in multiple companies. He also directs CEOs to call private equity managing directors to express interest in all of their start-ups. Approach the new CEO, he recommends, if you’re a vice president.

Seeking employment in start-ups requires at least as much effort as looking in established companies. Do the work to find the work.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at © 2013 Passage Media.

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