7 Signs That It’s Time to Leave Your Tech Startup

7 Signs That It’s Time to Leave Your Tech Startup

You once loved your job.

When you were first hired, you were excited to contribute to the startup’s mission. Nothing could pry you away from the fulfilling work you produced every day.

But lately you’ve felt unmotivated. You don’t feel as excited when signing on for work each morning.

It’s clear that something has changed.

Should you just abandon ship?

In this article, we share seven of the most common reasons engineers leave their startups. These reasons might reveal that it’s time to look for new career opportunities.


1. You work in a toxic culture

Toxic workplace cultures are quickly becoming the main driving force behind The Great Resignation.

As of 2022, an average worker is ten times more likely to leave their company due to a toxic work environment than dissatisfaction with wages.

Although tech startups are known for their fun and inclusive cultures, all it takes is a few bad apples to sour the team.

Here are key signs that your startup’s culture is potentially becoming toxic:

  • Your teammates throw you under the bus to save themselves
  • Deadlines are frequently missed
  • You can’t establish a healthy work/life balance
  • Colleagues are constantly conveying a sense of panic
  • Your feedback is dismissed or not taken seriously
  • Your manager discourages you from speaking with other teams in the organization
  • You feel uncomfortable discussing compensation with your peers
  • You hesitate when recommending your company to others as a place to work

People ultimately have varying definitions of what constitutes a “toxic” workplace. But if you’re experiencing even just one of these situations, you may want to reflect on whether this company is worth it.


2. You’ve stopped learning

One of the main reasons engineers choose startups over corporate jobs is the number of opportunities for personal growth.

The lack of legacy systems and formalized processes often allows engineers to learn the newest technologies and work with the most innovative tech stacks.

Therefore, startup engineers should rarely feel stagnant.

If you feel like you’ve reached a ceiling at your company or that you’ve learned all that you can with the current technologies, it might be time to search for new opportunities where you can continue to grow.

Likewise, consider a career move if your company doesn’t allow you to work cross-functionally or expand the scope of your own role. The smaller team sizes at startups allows you to wear many hats and gain experience in different areas of the organization. Don’t feel like you need to stick around if you notice your role has grown increasingly siloed or developed a much narrower focus than when you first joined.


3. You feel undervalued

Estimating how much you deserve to be compensated can be tricky at a startup.

On one hand, you deserve a similar salary to other skilled developers in your industry.

On the other hand, startups lack the resources and funding of larger enterprises.

Despite the new technologies, many hats, and greater business impact, part of the gamble of joining an early-stage company is less financial stability in the short run.

Nevertheless, your employer still needs to adequately pay you for your time if they expect you to remain a member of their team.

If your salary/equity combination remains significantly below market or you find yourself struggling to survive on this source of income alone, then it’s time to either negotiate a higher startup compensation package or find a new organization that won’t leave you living paycheck to paycheck.

Furthermore, it might be time to walk away from your startup if you’ve taken on more responsibilities but your job title hasn’t budged.

If this is the case, try speaking directly with your manager before sending applications to other companies. Communicating that your role has expanded or that you’ve been loyal to your organization for several years without a raise may be a wake-up call to your manager that you are underpaid and ultimately serves as a key reason why you don’t need to leave your startup to earn more money.

However, if your manager makes it clear that a promotion or raise isn’t in the cards for the future, this may be a signal that it’s time to move on.

Note: Being undervalued doesn’t just refer to compensation. If you feel like your accomplishments aren’t recognized by your teammates, consider searching for an organization that actually appreciates what you bring to the table!


4. You feel burnt out

Often confused with general tiredness or depression, job burnout is a debilitating form of exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of untreated stress from the workplace.

And it’s on the rise.

While burnout manifests differently from person-to-person and will likely crop up for brief intervals throughout your professional career, here are some signals that the burnout you’re feeling is worth paying attention to:

  • Your work performance is suffering
  • You regularly approach work with dread or cynicism
  • You’re less inclined to get to work or join meetings on time
  • You actively look for ways to avoid doing your job
  • You prolong going to bed so you have more free time at night
  • You perpetually procrastinate
  • You’ve developed a “gliding” mindset
  • You socialize less with your teammates
  • Your physical health is deteriorating

It’s critical that you address burnout when it first appears and not when it fully sets in.

Sometimes all you need to do is set better boundaries by taking more time off or turning off work-related notifications when you’re done for the day.

But if you still feel burnt out after prioritizing your work/life balance and speaking with your manager about adjusting the parameters of your role, then it’s possible that startup is the wrong fit for you in the long run.

Note: To help you avoid burnout altogether, here are tips on how to prevent burnout in the tech space.


5. Your company isn’t financially stable

Startup hires understand that they are signing up for an experiment.

Depending on the stage of growth, startup companies might still be in the process of finding product-market fit and reaching a level of predictable product delivery.

However, it’s important as an employee to know if the ship you’re on will stay afloat.

If you continue to find the product roadmap or the company’s plan to make money unclear after speaking with leadership, then it’s likely that the startup lacks a long-term growth strategy that can provide you with opportunities for career advancement or substantial increases in compensation. For some, this experimental atmosphere and the potential to build a mature organization from the ground up are attractive. But for others, it may not be best to stick around companies with more certain financial futures.

In addition, pay attention if your company always seems to be in fundraising mode or has an extensive history with layoffs and high turnover rates. These could be signs that your startup is a sinking ship.


6. You’re easily bored by your work

Do you feel like you’ve accomplished as much as you can in your current role?

Are you feeling increasingly unfulfilled by your daily work?

Do you no longer feel excited by the product you’re building or the problems that you’re solving?

Are you tired of working with the same technologies and languages every day?

Do you find yourself spending more of your time on your side hustles?

If you answered, “Yes,” to any of these questions, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with the startup you’re working for. It might mean that you simply want something new out of your professional career and you’re ready to make that career switch.

And if nothing else, exploring your various interests might help you validate that you enjoy your current role and you truly want to stay at your current company!


7. You want to work in a different startup stage

While your job title may remain the same across all stages of startup growth, the scope and parameters of your role can vary greatly.

As a result, not every stage is an appropriate fit for every engineer.

How do you figure out which stage is right for you?

One sign that you aren’t in the right stage is that you aren’t satisfied with the amount of structure in place for your role. In general, earlier stage startups have less structure and attract engineers that are comfortable with ambiguity and discovery whereas later-stage startups offer a bit more predictability. If you find yourself craving established processes and already-defined objectives, you may prefer to work at later-stage startups and the company that you’re currently working at is too early in its life.

Another sign is that you’re unhappy with the level of impact that you bring to the product.

When you join a late-stage startup, you spend most of your time scaling an existing product to a proven user base. It’s less about adding significant features to the product than improving upon what is already there.

If you feel frustrated that you’re constantly iterating instead of innovating, you may be ready to work for an early-stage startup where you’ll be doing whatever you can to find that product-market fit.


You have a reason to feel excited

That realization that you are ready to leave your startup might make you feel guilty.

After all, you’ve given so much to your teammates and the organization

But feeling like it’s time to move on is a sign that you delivered what your startup needed. And your teammates will always cherish and build on your contributions.

So be grateful for everything that your team gave you but feel free to get excited that you’re moving into a new phase of your startup career.

Author: Jonas Fryer

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