Learn from me: Startup Jobs
Updated: Apr 20
Startups are everywhere, featured in the evening news, spotlighted in blockbuster movies, housed coast to coast, and built from big and small ideas, services, or products. But startup opportunities are more than trendy topics of conversation, they represent opportunities and career paths for Lehigh students. Startups are early-stage companies that can offer great post-graduation or internship opportunities for a wide range of majors and skill sets. These companies are solving unique problems with interesting technologies and impassioned teams. Guest student blogger Declan Coster, Electrical Engineering ‘23, shares what you need to know about startups so you can leverage your Lehigh education with a startup opportunity.
Many startups work in small cohesive teams. This means that the employees are working very closely with their coworkers on the main product(s) and often on the aspects that are most important to their customers. In order to collect customer feedback and prioritize their wants, startup teams usually meet with customers often, experiment several ideas, and iterate on the best ideas. In other words, you are close to the action and can work directly with c-level leadership at a startup.
Since most startups are smaller in size, all of the employees are working on aspects that are very important to the company and the problem the company is trying to solve. This gives employees the opportunity to work on cool and innovative solutions that will have an almost immediate impact. In a startup, all employees are important because they bring unique skills and contributions to the company. Whether you are the CEO or the intern, your work can directly (and sometimes immediately) impact the company’s success and progress.
One of the biggest reasons to join a startup is the opportunity. Many startups are the only companies solving certain problems a certain way. This gives these companies the opportunity to potentially change their market and their employees have the opportunity to grow with these companies.
Are startups risky?
Many successful brands or companies you know now as household names (Amazon, Facebook, DoorDash) started as startups, and there is significant value to being a part of the original team. But for every startup that is successful, there are many that are not. Startups generally pay employees less than large employers and don’t include the job security many large well-established companies can offer. While this risk should not dissuade you from exploring startups for professional positions, it should incentivize you to do your research on the companies when you are looking for roles.
Here are a few questions to ask when learning about a startup:
What funding stage are they at?
Who gave them funding?
Who are the founders and what experience do they have?
What is the company size? Are they growing?
What does the company do?
Do you feel passionate about the problem?
How to understand startup funding
Many early-stage startups are not profitable, so they pay for their company's expenses with money raised from investors. The other important part about funding is that it is a form of validation, showing that certain investors believe that this company could be successful.
Startup funding generally comes in rounds. Knowing which round the company just raised can give you insights into what the company is working on. It's important to understand the progression of funding rounds and what they mean for you as someone applying for a role with a startup. More details about funding can also be found at crunchbase.com.
Seed: Seed is generally considered the first round (speaking generally because there is a lot of money now going into investments at the pre-seed level. This article from Storm2 gives more information on pre-seed funding.) Company founders will raise money from friends/family, previously successful founders (typically called angel investors), and some other avenues (grants, accelerators, etc.). These rounds give companies enough money to bring a product to market. The founders will most likely have a prototype of the product/service and they are hoping to further develop it or scale it with funds raised. The team might not be very large at this moment and the only full-time employees are probably at the C-suite level (CEO, CTO, CFO, etc.). When joining a team at this time you will most likely work on the main product with probably only a handful of other people. With respect to risk, one thing to be aware of is that at the Seed round, most companies have not been widely accepted by their customers. The period from receiving Seed funds to raising a Series A (next round) is all spent on making a product/business that will be accepted by the market.
Series A: At the Series A level, the company is still fairly small, but they have a product that is doing well with the market. With the Series A funds, the company will scale its operations and perfect its business plan. Joining a company at this stage can be much less daunting. The risk level drops as the company at this point has made some progress in the eyes of investors. On the work side, the team will have grown, making it potentially easier to develop solutions. While Series A investments can be quite large, the company will still be small and the fate of the company is not yet certain.
Series B/C/+: At these stages of funding the company has a product or service that is accepted by their customers, but they are working to adjust their business model to be more profitable or more robust. This work could include introducing new products, shifting manufacturing processes, or investing time in new markets. Companies at this stage are working on being better rather than staying alive (but staying alive is very much still the name of the game). Companies in their later funding rounds can generally pay better while still evoking that startup atmosphere.
Investors: When looking through the specifics of company funding rounds, also look at the investors. Investors tend to have expertise in certain areas and some have great track records. If you are looking to work at a software company that grows into the next Meta or Netflix, see if the investors invested in big companies like those in the past. A lot of this information can be found on the investor's website, Twitter, or Crunchbase.
How to understand organization within a startup
Company Size: Some startups are very profitable from the beginning and don’t have to worry about external funding. In these instances, looking at the company size on LinkedIn can be very helpful. Startups are known for their small size, but you want to make sure you will succeed with a company of that size. In addition to the size of the company in total, try to use LinkedIn to determine the size of the team your role will be with (this is really only possible for smaller companies).
Leadership: When doing research on a startup, especially a small startup, looking into the founder(s) and leaders can be the best way to learn more about the company. The company leaders are the ones that raise funds and work on deals with external companies, so their qualifications and reputation are very important for the success of the business. Doing research on the leadership is much more important if the company is below 50 employees or at an early funding round because at an entry-level position or even as an intern you might be working with the c-suite leaders.
Problem/Product: One of the most interesting aspects of a startup is that they are solving a problem in a unique way. This allows you to work on something truly innovative with a company that could grow a lot over your career with them. You will be working several different jobs, often interacting directly with customers and the product rather than being alienated from these aspects as can sometimes be the case in large corporations. Understanding the fundamental problem and the fundamental solution is also a very important way to understand the risk. If the problem and solution are well described on the company website and you think you could describe the situation to your parents or grandparents, then you can feel comfortable that you know what you are getting yourself into.
Networking steps for startup connections
One of the best things about networking with startup employees and founders is that they are applying the fundamental entrepreneurial concepts you will be learning in class. In a 15 minute conversation, you can learn a ton: how the lean startup approach manifests in hardware technologies, how culture can lead to effective revenue growth, how to estimate how much money your company needs to raise. More than anything, networking in the Entrepreneurship space is about interest. If you are interested in a certain company, reach out to the founder(s) on Twitter or LinkedIn with an interesting question. Nothing is more effective at showing your interest (in the topic and the person) than asking a great question!
People in the startup space are very busy, so put in the time to do as much research as possible and have about five great questions going into a 15-30 minute call. One of the best ways to do research is to read the person’s tweets or blog posts, especially if it is a tech founder. Your questions should focus on previous decisions, especially those that were against the grain, and current/future strategy. Tailor the questions to the person, questions that will work great for the CEO/founders might not be as engaging for a lower-level employee that might be doing work in another space. One way to network with founders is to see if they have a Calendly Link in their Twitter bio or on their website. Usually, you can sign up for a quick 15 minute meeting and Calendly reduces the problems with organizing a meeting time.
TIP: Pay extra attention to timing when networking. The best time to network with a founder is right after their company has announced the completion of a funding round. They will be more likely to hire people and they have a massive burden lifted off their shoulders. Make sure to congratulate them on their funding round when you connect!
Example questions to ask to learn about startup opportunities:
How can I identify startup job opportunities?
What classes or skills should I build to prepare me for a career at a startup?
What risks and rewards did you consider when exploring jobs within startup companies?
How can I assess the culture or leadership style within a startup?
Example questions to ask to learn about a specific startup:
You are launching in city X, what benefits does this city have over others?
You came from the Y industry, what made you interested in starting a business in Z?
Your company just raised a Series A, what was the hardest question a Venture Capitalist asked you?
Your company just grew, how do you decide which area of your business needs more workers?
Networking with Lehigh alumni
Have more questions about startups? Looking for insight into your resume, startup job search steps, or the interview prep process? Alumni who have experience in startups are a great resource for information and advice.
Lehigh Connects: Lehigh alumni and student networking community
Browse thousands of Lehigh alumni profiles and use the filters (Industry filter: Entrepreneurship) to identify an alum of interest. Easy to use message tools allow you to reach out to learn about the career path, experiences, and ask questions. This is a great way to learn about startup opportunities and ask for advice. This network is responsive and engaged, considering they specifically signed on Lehigh Connects to support students as they explored career options and prepared for internships and full-time job searches.
LinkedIn is an excellent way to identify alumni working at startups. Keep in mind, you must have your LinkedIn profile and network well established in order to gain access to the full network on LinkedIn. 60,000+ alumni are available to browse and filter to find a connection that aligns with your startup interests. You might find it helpful to use a key word filter "startup" to identify alumni working in the industry.
Advice from Alumni
Scott Goldman, Biology '97 grad who now works in Biotech, shared "Many start-ups are too busy "starting up" to be able to devote the appropriate amount of effort to recruiting interns. However, I have spoken to some students in the past about this and there are some avenues they can take to find startup opportunities.
Seek connections with startup incubators/competitions. There are lots of these, like the MIT 100K or MassChallenge in Boston. There are also incubators like the Deshpande Center or LabCentral (also in Boston) where nascent start-ups can operate while they get their feet under them. Reaching out to these places can be a good way to find startups that need help. Reach out to VC firms directly. VC Principals and Associates are always looking for talent to help get new ventures off the ground. They can also provide broad overviews across their investment portfolios which can be helpful in matching students with opportunities of interest. Reach out directly to startups. There are lots of resources across industries that list startups (in biotech, MassBio.org and BioPharmGuy.com are two) and what kind of work they are doing. Often direct outreach is a good way to get connected, and early stage startups have lots less red tape to contend with. Many might welcome potential interns."
Jeffrey Hoeber, computer science and business '12 grad who now works as a Data Scientist for Spotify, shared "Highly recommend builtin.com or builtinnyc.com. Also be sure to use crunchbase in tandem to ensure the companies are well funded based on the given stage - you can also see the maturity of the company based on the given stage they're at. Depending what you're trying to do (e.g. engineering, data, product etc.) - often times there might be an associated slack channel for a given region with tons of job postings."
Browse startup jobs and opportunities
Angel's List (I got my first internship from Angel’s List)
Pallet (Job boards curated by industry or by a person)
Some great Pallets:
About the guest blogger
Declan Coster is a third-year student at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Entrepreneurship. He is currently the Treasurer of the New Ventures Club and participated in the Baker Institute’s Lehigh Silicon Valley program in 2021. Declan helped invite companies to participate in the Startup Job Fair hosted in spring 2022 as well as organized a lot of the outreach to students for the event. Declan worked at Lazarus, an AI/Health startup, as a remote software intern over the summer of 2021 and will work for Optamo, which was part of the Startup Job Fair, as an intern in summer 2022. Declan became interested in startups through his classes and involvement with the New Ventures Club and the Baker Institute. Declan believes that because startups have to focus on solving a set of specific problems, the result/feedback are closely tied into the work making the process much more fulfilling and engaging. Startups offer a great opportunity to work on something innovative and impactful and Declan recommends students who are interested in learning more about startups, check out Lehigh’s Entrepreneur classes, the Baker Institute, and the New Ventures Club. If you are interested in scheduling a 15 minute meeting with Declan please use his Calendly link: https://calendly.com/dmc223/15min