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What kind of future position can a project manager expect in a start-up? Should I expect to be let go once the product is up and running or will I be expected to morph into something else? The partners say "we can work something out" so I'd just like to know from people in the field what usually happens. It's my first job as a salaried project manager in a start-up

One big reason I ask this is because I am getting options, which will be vested over 5 years. I think the project as I'm working on it will be completed in 3, so if the job will most likely end, then I need to have the vesting schedule match.

Thanks for your feedback!

  • A bit unrelated to your question, but you are in a good & bad place having a first PM job with a start-up. The good part is that you are going to have a lot more authority and responsibility than you would have in a larger organization, so more of a chance to shine & have an impact. The bad part is you are the company's expert, so maybe more of a challenge for you to learn best/better practices from a more experienced mentor. My best advice is to embrace the positive and learn as much as you can. – Doug B May 1 '14 at 20:01
  • Thanks for the advice. That's why I'm here - to learn. Coming from a corporate environment I always had lots of people above me to help (and take responsibility!) – SuziG May 4 '14 at 9:38
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Your being retained is going to be based on at least four variables:

  1. Your performance. This is pretty self-explanatory. You add value you will likely keep your job all things being equal.
  2. Pipeline. If your company is a one-trick pony you will be out of a job no matter how well you do. Hopefully yours is not the only project they have going.
  3. Business strategy. If your company plans to be bought out you have less job security than one that plans to stick around. You may be able to get a feeling for this by looking at how competent your sales force is.
  4. Cashflow. You want [(Investment Capital Available in $$) / (Burn Rate in $$ per year)] to be larger than the duration of your project. How much larger depends on your risk tolerance.

Unfortunately, if you aren't a founder/partner in the organization you can only exert control over the first item on the list.

  • Ouch. So pretty much I shouldn't think long term based on 2, 3 and 4. And as far as adding value, I think I will reach a point of diminishing returns or have to take on a different role. – SuziG May 1 '14 at 16:50
  • Hopefully your company isn't that bad off, but start-ups are generally less secure than more established companies pretty much by definition. – Doug B May 1 '14 at 19:58
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You should expect to remain employed with a start up or a 100-year-old company for 1) only as long as you're needed, either your role or your capability set; 2) only as long as they can afford you; or 3) only as long as the company remains a company.

What you are really asking for is a risk assessment. Start ups have higher risks all the way around; that's why they offer stock options, to counter-balance the risk you assume. Everyone's at risk, so asking for a different vesting schedule for you is a bit one-sided and not likely to get approved. I am not even sure if a company is even allowed to offer different vesting schedules.

  • I thought that the stock options were to make up for the lower (than usual) salary. – SuziG May 1 '14 at 16:45
  • I think it can, but in my experience with start-ups, due to the higher risk, they are offered there, as well. I'd evaluate the entire package they offered from the perspective that you could be looking for a job very soon. – David Espina May 1 '14 at 16:53
  • That's what I thought, but you know they were very optimistic that it will be successful and so on. In any case, I'm sure it will be a learning experience for me and I will manage my expectations and keep my eyes open. – SuziG May 1 '14 at 17:04
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If you're competent and the project is successful, you can expect to be a PM at a start-up.... as long as they have a project for you to manage.

You asked what happens 'when the project is finished' -- You either start managing the next project, or, lacking a 'next project', move to a new role with the same company, or move to another company.

So, as your project enters it's final phase or two I'd be looking at and talking to them about what they've got on deck. If you don't see anything then you should be looking at options well before the project closes.

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