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This Should be the Worst Time to Join a Startup… But it’s Not

By Silicon Allee |

This is a guest post by Chris Johnson, co-founder of Wakefield Media and Uncubed, which is coming to Berlin for the first time on Friday September 20. You can still buy tickets for the event at Cafe Moskau here.

If I told you there was a gigantic tech IPO coming that would flop disastrously, that the biggest names in Silicon Valley would invest $40 million (€29.5m) in a startup that never had a chance, and that an American commerce site would land a $1 billion valuation and then promptly lay off most of its (Berlin-based) European staff, you would say this is a tech bubble and it’s going to explode.

And it’s true: those are Godzilla-sized messes, each capable of setting tech startups back by a decade.

But all of these have happened over the last two years. Facebook, Color.com, and Fab. Meaning that this really should be just about the worst time to join a tech startup.

It’s not. In fact, it’s probably the best opportunity to join a tech startup we’ve ever seen.

Why? Because there’s something larger at play here. The technology industry will always cycle – we’re always somewhere on the upswing or the downswing. And it’s truly impossible to predict. But what we’ve seen emerge over the last few years is redefining the way young people think about work.

Starting five years ago this week, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, large numbers of conventional jobs began disappearing. Around the same time (or a bit earlier) sweeping changes took root in the structure of the internet – allowing new companies to be created quickly, and cheaply.

These new companies (the Twitters, Squares, and SoundClouds) – whether in San Francisco or in Berlin – adopted a new view about work culture. You could say that a sort of ‘modern work’ emerged. Offices got more relaxed, teams became more collaborative, and fun became celebrated, rather than something relegated to the weekend. It became more important to find something challenging and meaningful to work on rather than to find the highest paycheck.

This is where people want to work. And nowhere is the ‘modern work’ concept captured better than in the tech startup space. The challenge is, it’s hard to access these companies. They don’t have big hiring teams, sometimes don’t advertise, and it’s even hard to tell if your favorite app was built by a team of two or 2,000.

We launched our Uncubed event series – which allows talented people access to successful tech startups in a fun, high energy environment – in New York, but then realised that the trend was nearly universal for any city with a semblance of a tech scene.

Our wager is that this work culture is here to stay, regardless of the ups and downs of the tech cycles. And it’s that culture that’s attractive to people, even more so than because it’s technology. We’ll see what happens.