Need advice on an offer

6 years ago from , Designer @ SAP

Hey designers! I've got an offer from a start-up. I'm a student so I've no experience with this and I've no one can talk to.

It's a start-up and they are offering me 5% and I will be the board member. No salary at this stage. I need some advice on this. (They haven't been funded, but they say they already talking to investors)

Plus, do you guys think it's good for a <1 year experience student designer to join a startup? I'm struggling with this. I'm thinking that maybe working in big company will be better for a beginner. However I'm so really sure.

Thanks a lot!


  • Nick MNick M, almost 6 years ago

    Absolutely not. If you have less than one year of experience, on top of being a student, you would be doing yourself an immense disservice to join.

    No salary? Absolutely not. What is 5% of nothing? It's nothing.

    Board member? Of what, exactly? An unfunded start-up who can't afford to pay you real money for real work, and who are so desperate that they are willing to hire a designer with zero - no offense is meant here - experience.

    I speak to you from experience. I've worked with friends who have created startups, twice. Each time, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Each time, I had no idea what I was doing. Neither did they. We're no longer friends. I now work for a real startup, started by a serial entrepreneur. The differences are myriad. Without enough experience, it's impossible to tell when you're going to work for a clown, or when you're going to work for a professional. You don't have enough experience. Don't get burned by empty promises from a bunch of clowns.

    2 points
    • Tori Z, almost 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comment! So how do you define clown and professional then?

      All team members they currently have are developers working in global company who have 5-10 years exp.. I thought that looks promising?

      1 point
      • Nick MNick M, almost 6 years ago

        Clowns are people without a roadmap. Clowns are people who think it's going to be easy, and that by putting butts in seats you've done most of the work. Clowns are people who aren't willing to spend money (pay employees) to make money.

        Pros don't do any of those things.

        And for the record, just working for a global company doesn't mean anything about the efficacy or experience of an employee. There are plenty of underperformers at every global company, and you're actually more likely to find them the larger a company is.

        0 points
  • Stefan RösslerStefan Rössler, 6 years ago

    Since you're a student, you don't have to earn a steady income yet, and thus are free to experiment and take on a lot of different jobs without the immediate need for salary.

    That said, you should be at the lookout for opportunities like this, for one simple reason: you have <1 year experience, so you need to make new experiences, at best, while you're still studying and you don't have the pressure to make a decent salary to pay your rent, or whatever other financial obligations you may have.

    When we started our company we were literally taking on any job that came the way. We were able to do so, because we were still students and didn't need to make that much money at first. This way we were able to learn what we're passionate about and what we just find boring and/or to not be the right thing for us.

    "Experience is the only source of knowledge." – Albert Einstein

    The biggest challenge I see in your current situation is not the fact that you won't get paid for it. It's the fact that you're becoming a board member in some startup you probably don't know too much about, and all of this while you're still a student and have less than one year of experience.

    In my opinion that's a too big obligation for someone in your position. I'm kind of confused about how "professional" or "competent" the founders of this startup are, if they're offering a student such an opportunity. They are either very kind and convinced you're right for the job (are they?), or they don't have any idea what they're doing, and just want to make sure, they don't have to pay someone for actually doing (designing) what they are probably only talking about.

    Make your decision is dependent on how you feel about this situation. Do you feel like the founders are absolute beginners? Did they only choose you because they needed someone and you were the only one considering their offer an option?

    Anyway, I would not take on any long-term contracts too early on, because as mentioned in the beginning you have to make a lot of different experiences, and staying with one startup (that's not yours) might narrow your focus too early.

    I'd suggest you ask them on a small trial project to see if you fit together. Whatever you'll make this trial project, make sure you don't sign any long-term obligations. Instead just charge for your work. It doesn't even matter how much you charge, it's just important that they have to pay you, because that's the only way to find out if they see any value in your work.

    If they do, you might consider a long-term contract down the road. If not, there will probably be an offer from the next startup, or maybe you'll come up with some idea to start your own company, or something completely different happens. When this happens and you're not tight to any contract, and still have time at your hands (which is more important than money), you will still be able to experiment and to make more experiences with whatever comes your way.

    I wish you all the best with it :)

    1 point
    • Tori Z, 6 years ago

      Thank you. That's a lot of insightful tips!

      Just want to clarify, I'm a student but I'm already in my mid-20s so probably I'm not as young as you thought?

      This startup initially hired me as a freelancer/contractor. The currently members are a developers who have 5-10yr experience and looks pro and commitment.

      I had one meeting with them, and they made the offer yesterday. They said they spend months to find a designer. The ones they look into are either expensive, or not available(have too many clients lining up). And they say I am a "hidden gem".

      I will still get paid as the initial contract I signed with them. But after that, no salary for now.

      Although I currently have no financial problem,I still have to pay rent in future though, so I can't work for the 5% forever. How should I negotiate this? (Like, If the company get funded, I should get xxx salary. Is that appropriate to ask?)

      Again thanks so much!

      0 points
      • Stefan RösslerStefan Rössler, 6 years ago

        I think, I get it now. Let me summarize it to make sure I got the key points right:

        • You're a student but still have to pay your rent (you're right, I assumed you were still younger ;)
        • You have about one year of experience
        • Some people with a startup met you once, you've already worked with them, and they will eventually pay you for this work
        • After that, they give you the opportunity to get 5% of their company for doing the design work

        I don't want to offend anyone, but to me it sounds like this opportunity isn't as great as the people from this startup let you think it is. To me they seem to act very unprofessional. Let me explain why:

        They want to get funding for their startup (many people want that), and since they don't have any money (or staff), they ask students to do the work. That said, you will have a lot of responsibility, but anyway, I would not overestimate the learning effect of this.

        You will without a doubt learn how stressful working for a startup is, and you will also realize that just because it's hard, it doesn't pay of … financially. The truth is, most startups never turn into successful businesses, so the odds are high, you will never make any money with this job.

        If this is no problem for you, either because it's just 4 hours a week, or maybe you have enough financial backup, I would just start, see how it works, and make it crystal clear to your business partners, that you can quit at any given time (this is just fair, because their startup could end at any time as well).

        If you depend on a regular income, I would step away from this. Even if these people are nice, no one knows how competent they are in building a successful business. The fact, that they ask students to do the work, lets me conclude, they don't have any idea about how hard it will really be.

        Besides this, I'm a little surprised how easy they give away 5% of their company to some stranger. Doesn't seem like they care too much about it …

        One last remark on the learning opportunities: if you're a student, you may consider working with someone with more experience. That way you'll have way better chances to improve, and not just learn how hard it is to learn everything on your own (which you will, if you're the only designer).

        If you're granted the "opportunity" to work for some startup to eventually get 5% of their business, you can also start your own business and get a 100% of that.

        Many people have business ideas, and especially to beginners it seems like these people know something. But very often they don't. They're just good at making you believe there's a big opportunity for you, when it's really just great for them to get free work and only pay in case they'll become millionaires.

        In the end you have to draw your own conclusions, and I'm very confident you'll do the right thing, however you'll decide.

        See you around :)

        2 points
        • Tori ZTori Z, almost 6 years ago

          If this is no problem for you, either because it's just 4 hours a week, or maybe you have enough financial backup, I would just start, see how it works, and make it crystal clear to your business partners, that you can quit at any given time (this is just fair, because their startup could end at any time as well).

          This is my situation. (I'll go back to school, which is in another city, and they said I can do remote work. I do also have some financial backup. Thanks for reminding me that I should make sure I can quit anytime.

          Besides this, I'm a little surprised how easy they give away 5% of their company to some stranger. Doesn't seem like they care too much about it …

          Before this I had no idea what 5% means. I asked a few people and realize that's a huge chunk.. Well, what I'm feeling is that they really want me to stay with the company. I know the founder have 30% ownership. All of them invested their own money already.

          Thanks again for spending time to give me such advice :D

          0 points
  • Alex KrleskiAlex Krleski, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    If you're a student, then you should definitely take the offer. It will be a great opportunity for you to learn and build your portfolio.

    A big company won't hire you if can't demonstrate you can do the job, which is why you need a portfolio.

    But you should speak to them about getting at least a reasonable wage for your work.

    All the best.

    1 point
  • Tori ZTori Z, 6 years ago

    I'm NOT so really sure. Sorry for typo... :(

    0 points