Why graduates should look to tech start-ups


Date: 17 November 2011

Sam England of PostDesk recently caught up with Songkick founder Pete Smith to ask him about start-ups recruiting new graduates:

Keyboard with graduate symbol onI'm co-founder of east London-based startup Songkick, the company behind Silicon Milkroundabout, which brings together over 100 UK start-ups offering more than 500 tech jobs. We held our first event back in May and our second in October.

The idea came about over a pint with Ian, one of my co-founders. We were discussing a common problem. When recruiting graduates, many start-ups, say, looking for a graduate to fill a software developer post, struggle to compete against large employers, such as the big banks.

It's good for graduates to think smaller

Silicon Milkroundabout encourages graduates to think about working for start-ups rather than a bank or other large corporate. I'm not totally against working for a large bank or corporate, of course. For some, it can be the right decision.

But graduates should know other options exist and that start-ups can be the answer when making important career decisions. Often people can get the wrong idea about working for a start-up, that it's risky, for example, or that they'd need to waste loads of time visiting hundreds of offices until they find somewhere they really want to work.

In many cases, working for a start-up can be more rewarding. Often you get more choice about whom you work with and what you work on. I meet a lot of people who work in start-up engineering teams and usually they love the product they work on.

And whether they have business or consumer users, they know what their users do with their products and receive feedback immediately after release. That's extremely rewarding when you're building something you actually care about.

You learn how to run a company

Ultimately, if you have ambitions one day to start your own company, there's no better way to learn the ropes than to spend a few years at a small company, so you can see how it is run and grown.

Things have changed. Tech start-ups now have the DNA of product and engineering teams. No longer are they two MBA guys raising a bit of money and getting some dude in Eastern Europe to build the website, as was often the case five years ago in London.

Just as you can go into a tech job at a bank thinking it's going to be pretty secure (and you'll make a bit of money), you can go into a start-up knowing 18 months or two years will go by before the next funding round is needed.

You may think it will get profitable in that time (and you'll make a bit of money). Go into it with your eyes open and it's a nice period of time to work with people you like, on a product you enjoy.

I don't believe in the natural attrition rate of start-ups. Make wise decisions and your business shouldn't fail.

My advice to graduates? Be smart. Choose a start-up with a plan you feel comfortable with. Ask yourself – "Do I trust the founders, the CTO and the developers?" If you can truly trust them to make smart decisions, there's a very good chance you'll make the right career move.

Pete Smith founded Songkick, a website and mobile app which lets people track concerts happening in their area.

This is an edited version of an interview that first appeared on the PostDesk blog.

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