Two years ago, as COO of Candela (one of Massachusetts’ largest medical device companies), I had one of best jobs in the industry. When we merged with Syneron, I was in a great position to move to a senior role at another big company. Instead, I was determined to join a startup. I know lots of big company execs who can’t envision joining a startup, and lots of big company engineers who feel the same way. The medical device industry doesn’t have the same sexy startup culture as the software industry, where two or three coders can get together and start the next cloud-based phone service, social network, mobile photo-sharing app , or cloud-based note-taking tool. In Massachusetts, only a handful of new medical device startups get VC funded each year (see prior post).
Yet I was determined to go early-stage. Very early stage. Not only is a startup absolutely the right path for me, it’s probably the right path for you. I can’t believe that everyone doesn’t want to work in a startup. Here’s why.
For me, founding a startup offers three great opportunities that I just couldn’t get at a bigger company.
- An opportunity to drive significant improvements in patient care. Among many other innovations, medical device startups have given the world transcatheter heart valves, renal denervation for hypertension, bronchial thermoplasty for asthma, balloon sinuplasty for chronic sinusitis, endometrial ablation for abnormal bleeding, and catheter-based treatments for stroke. Big companies buy startups and iterate products, but rarely innovate. They just can’t.
- An opportunity to to build a great team, company and culture. It takes a great team to overcome the many obstacles to bringing a new medical device to market – technical, clinical, regulatory, reimbursement, and market. Only a team with a real passion for the mission will put in the late hours and weekends that it takes to succeed. It’s a lot harder to change a culture than it is to create the right culture from scratch.
- An opportunity to participate in significant value creation. You can create a lot of value in a startup, and you can own a meaningful share of that value. Startups may pay a little less, but startup options/shares simply have a lot more potential than big company shares. While startup options may also have more risk, for me it’s a risk that is mitigated by the confidence I have in myself, my co-founder, and the team we are building.
If you are an engineer, taking a job at a startup means an opportunity to share in these same opportunities. But wait, there’s more.
- You’ll get the chance to see how all parts of the company work. Startups provide unparalleled interaction with the senior team and board. If you ever think you might want to start your own company, working in a startup is a great way to learn the ropes.
- You’ll get to do lots of different things. At a prior startup I had design engineers babysitting clinical sites and working tradeshow booths. I had clinical research associates running validation bench tests.
- You’ll make more of an impact. In a big company you’d represent far less than 1% of the headcount. In a startup, every person counts.
- You’ll move ahead faster in your career. Between the visibility and varied tasks, the experience you’ll gain in a few years at a startup will far outweigh the experience you might get in a larger company.
If you’ve read this far, you should also read these four posts on joining a tech or software startup:
Top 10 Reasons to Join a Startup
5 Reasons to Join a Startup After Graduating
Update 14 Feb 2013:
Chris Dixon The credentials trap
These posts nail the startup experience. There’s really nothing better.