Welcome to the Tech and Start-ups Exit Guide brought to you as a collaboration between The Aussie Corporate and Earlywork!
Ever thought about jumping ship where the grass seems greener (and shinier)? These materials will give you an insight into transitioning from a corporate career to a role in technology or a startup.
To truly immerse yourself, we (shamelessly plug) and highly recommend you follow Earlywork on LinkedIn, join the Slack community for the latest ANZ Startup Ecosystem, and visit @theaussiecorporate on Instagram for more information/insights into corporate Australia.
Why transition to tech?
Tech is a broad term encompassing a whole spectrum of tech companies. In this guide, we mainly focus on established Big Tech (e.g. Amazon, Microsoft, Atlassian) and start-ups. So why Big Tech or start-ups?
Strong Brand Equity: Big Tech encompasses some of the biggest household brands in the world. By joining a large tech company, you not only inherit a job at a great company, but all the glitz and glamour that come with the brand. For better or worse, people often use brands as a surrogate indicator of someone's competence in their field. Think 'ex-Google engineer', 'ex-Apple designer', etc.
Breadth of Learning: Due to the flat structure and limited company size, you can often work across multiple roles such as Sales and Marketing and have the flexibility to get involved in new projects. In general, the diversity and rate of learning at startups are higher.
Structured Learning & Development: As a junior employee, more mature tech companies have the upper hand in providing many internal training courses and teaching skills that have been battle-tested and formalised.
Fast-Paced Environment: Forget the red tape. Startups have the simplicity and flexibility to execute and learn quickly, which often leads to very rewarding feedback loops.
Formalised Mentorship Opportunities: The pool of people in mature tech companies is a full of successful mentors across different skills and insights. In startups, you don't typically have this breadth of mentor access, and the onus is often on you to build a mentor relationship.
Modern Tech & Tool Stack: Startups tend to experiment more and use a lot of super slick and easy SaaS tools to work effectively. Better yet, if you find a tool or process you like, it's much easier to get the rest of the company using it too.
Immediate Scale of Impact: You can join a mature tech company and instantly work on a product that affects millions of users (often including family and friends), which is pretty cool regarding impact visibility. In joining a startup, getting to this scale usually takes many years, if they're lucky enough to survive that long.
High Autonomy & Ownership: It's equally scary and exciting how much responsibility you can get handed as a young person at a startup. Whereas a junior role might make slides look pretty in mature companies, you're more likely to own entire projects or even whole business functions as an early startup employee.
High Compensation: Let's not beat around the bush here. The big tech companies (at least the profitable ones) have the cash to offer salary packages that are a fair bit higher than most startups.
Potential for Equity in Company: A distinct financial advantage of startups is being able to offer early employees a non-trivial chunk of equity. So if you think you've come across the next Uber or Airbnb, there's a chance you might get hella cashed-up. Check out Earlywork's ESOP guide if you're interested in discovering more.
Lower Risk: A Google/Amazon/Atlassian-type company probably isn't going to shut down tomorrow. A blockchain for an ice cream startup? Dubious.
Work on Unsolved Problems: You have the chance to build products for problems with few or no existing solutions, which feels very rewarding. Change the world!
Agile working: You'll find that working for a startup gives you much more flexibility regarding when and where you can work. The good news is that you can work out in the morning, grab your morning smoothie and show up to the office mid-morning without being fired. The bad news is that the boundary between work and life becomes blurred. This can often mean more extended hours and days with the pressure of delivering.
Generally speaking, every traditional sector has a tech equivalent or counterpart. For example, health has HealthTech, finance has FinTech and education has EdTech. For a comprehensive list of the various industry verticals, check out this resource from PitchBook. We’ve noted some of the top verticals in Australia and some International examples below.
Start-up stages and tech company growth
As with any profession, you’ll have a range of sizes in startups and tech companies. For further reading check out Earlywork’s guide on startups vs scaleups. But, broadly speaking, there are four key stages for startups and tech companies.
The high risk, high reward option. You will be offered loads of stock options and the exciting opportunity of being “one of the first”. This might sound great but expect a potential pay cut of up to 50% (70k would be considered great) and gruelling hours due to the lean staffing. Forget gym memberships, free treats and barista coffee. All that money is there to grow the business, not to appease your selfish desires! Apply within if you’re a dreamer.
The sweet spot. A startup’s product or service will meet strong market demand if it reaches this level. This implies that new consumers, recurring customers, and billing will all rise. This is the point at which the team begins to expand, and recruitment begins. Expect decent stock options as the company continues to grow (but this time, with money). Promotions are reasonably straightforward, so there’s still room to grow.
Examples: Vow and Checkbox
Worth a look at a senior level (head of division, VP etc.). A scaleup has an established business strategy, which allows it to pursue more ambitious targets, such as expanding into other industries or new markets. You’ll be enticed with above-market compensation (some pay even better than IB) and a clear structure and programs within these companies. Hit these guys up after a big funding round, as they will be armed with cash to splash.
Examples: Eucalyptus and Dovetail
Big tech and unicorns are a whole other monster, strapped with cash and a well-established business model. This kind of startup isn’t a startup anymore. Having established itself as a market leader, exponential growth is not as forthcoming anymore. This kind of company naturally offers limited stock options but great bonuses and excellent pay.
Examples: Atlassian, Amazon, Microsoft
How to choose a company
It can be challenging to choose which startup to join. Whilst many traditional corporates have been around for decades with established brands, Startups can be a bit of an enigma. If you’re keen on learning more, you can check out this article from Earlywork on how to be your own career VC. Here are four factors in assessing when potentially joining a startup:
A large, growing market indicates that the market may be attractive for a startup to enter. Consider who the competitors are, how segmented is the market and how loyal are the customers. Companies will struggle to find prospective clients and build revenue without a substantial market. An important note is that the wrong company and right market can still be a good learning experience e.g. the startup fails, but you have relevant experience to get roles at other fast-growing startups in the sector.
It’s essential to define what the fundamental good or service is that the startup is providing. How does this product differ from existing products in the ecosystem? What is the competitive advantage? This could be ease of use, a loyal customer base or superior infrastructure. It’s essential to understand the trajectory of the product and to know if the company will be able to grow against other products in the market.
The final point to consider is the team. Team shapes both culture and product at a Startup or Technology company. It’s important to answer two key questions. First, is this a team I can see succeeding in the future? Is this a team that I want to work with? Feel free to contact your team for a coffee to get to know them!
Compensation is important, as with any profession, so be sure the startup you’re joining has adequate money to pay you. This may be more difficult to determine for early-stage businesses because some may have obtained funds from angels, family or friends. There’s nothing wrong with joining a company at this point; bear in mind that you’ll have more significant financial risk.
Startups sponsored by top-tier VCs with a track record of selecting huge winners are often a little safer. Startups in this category will have strong people in and around the business guiding the startup to success. Furthermore, you may be more confident they have the money to pay you and will likely raise additional cash from VCs in subsequent fundraising rounds.
Regardless of the sort of investment a company has gotten while interviewing, be sure to enquire about the startup’s financial runway: the greater the runway length, the more financially secure the company.
What roles are available to me?
Navigating the myriad of divisions and subdivisions in a startup can be challenging. In the following section, we’ve broken down some of the most common teams and roles in Big Tech and start-ups. For a more detailed breakdown, check out Earlywork’s no-Bullshit Guide to Junior Job Titles in Tech.
Who: The jack of all trades
Product managers (PMs) work at the intersection of tech, business and design, ensuring product success. Product managers can perform a little bit of everything, including customer research, data analysis, defining product requirements, helping build product/feature strategies, and coordinating the development of new features with stakeholders.
Who: The builder
Engineers are critical to developing any technical product. As an engineer, you’ll spend time developing the product, fine-tuning technology strategy, iterating the product and optimising the development team. There are many different types of engineering, such as backend, frontend, full-stack and solutions. To get into an engineering role, you’ll want to show evidence of projects and side hustles.
Who: The hustler
Salespeople are relentless hustlers. You’ll work hard in the sales team, generating sales leads, conducting sales operations and developing strong relationships. Sales involve a high level of strategy on how to pitch your product and manage the ongoing relationship with your customers. You’ll learn persistence and discipline with a charismatic flair when working in sales.
Who: The creative
Designers are responsible for the overall look and feel of the business and its products. There are many subsets to design, such as UI designers, UX designers, visual designers, and so on. At its core, designers are responsible for how users look and interact with the product, the company’s branding and sales/marketing. This encompasses many different subsets of skills, so a keen eye for detail and a generalist skillset go a long way in a design role.
Who: The Artist-meets-Scientist
Marketing roles at a start-up will typically be growth marketing roles. In this role, you’ll focus on rapid experimentation through online channels, backed by data analysis, to find marketing approaches that optimise customer acquisition, retention and referrals. You must be comfortable picking up technical skills in analytics, SEO and SEM. It’s important to note that there are many sub-specialities in marketing!
Who: The dealmaker
You’ll be focused on developing solid relationships in this role. For example, in this role you may be focused on acquiring new customers (sales) or helping build relationships with other companies/stakeholders (partnerships).
Who: The people person
You’ll be very much focused on developing solid relationships in this role. A customer-oriented role focused on helping existing product or service users, whether it be onboarding, support, renewal, upgrades, etc. You’ll need to be highly organised and comfortable working with diverse stakeholders. Especially as the business grows, you’ll need to stay on top of many accounts and relationships in increasing volumes.
Who: The person who gets shit done
In the operations team, you’ll be looking after the day-to-day operations. Therefore, make sure you are well versed with what’s happening in the business. EFFICIENCY and EFFECTIVENESS are your key words. In this role, you’ll be focused on creating and improving processes and projects across the company, often with data analysis skills.
Who: The numbers person
As a part of the finance team, you’ll oversee and manage the company’s financial operations. This is a critical function in ensuring a company’s overall economic health. To succeed in this role, you should be well versed in financial principles, laws and risk management. You’ll also be comfortable working with numbers and using financial management tools (i.e. Excel).
Who: The heartbeat
HR encompasses all things related to the management of human capital. This involves legal and regulatory control, recruiting, onboarding, record management and culture building. Great HR representatives are empathetic and organised. However, you’ll need an eye for detail and a heart for humans.
Who: The analyser
With the exponential growth of data, the demand for data-driven occupations is greater than ever. Although there are many roles in data, including data analyst, data engineer, data scientist and machine learning engineer, here’s a great article that breaks down the differences. Generally, you’ll be working across large data sets, wrangling information to produce results efficiently and effectively for the company.
How can I land a role?
There are three core routes to landing a role:
- LinkedIn DMs/Cold Emails: The key to landing referrals and creating your job opportunities is through LinkedIn messages. If you want to learn how to do this, check out this guide from Earlywork.
- Referrals: Referrals can be an excellent way to make your application stand out and get your resume to the top of the pile.
- Applications: Your standard application process will involve filling out a form, potentially undertaking testing, technical interviews, behavioural interviews and even a case study.
- Earlywork: For access to Australia and New Zealand’s go-to job board for early-career roles in tech, startups & social impact check out Gigs by Earlywork. If you want to join our talent collective, check out Talent by Earlywork.
The big question: how much can I make?
This will vary depending on the role, industry and company.
Check out the salary guide on our website and the great resources at Think & Grow for more information.