Startup interview questions – what you should ask?

If you have recently been asked to join a startup, you need to make sure you are making the right choice. Here is our list of critical startup interview questions to ensure that you know all there is to know before getting on board.

You’re working at your job when all of a sudden, a notification pops up on LinkedIn.

It’s a connection request. You’ve heard the name of the person before, so you decide to accept.

Straightaway, you get another notification – this time, it’s a message. You’re reluctant to open it, thinking that they may be trying to sell you something. You stare at the screen, and then go and get a coffee. After that, you click on the message and read what the person has to say.

It’s an extremely interesting proposal.

The person in question has heard good things about the work you do from other people in their industry. They’re currently in the process of launching a brand new startup and would like to speak to you about potentially joining their senior management team.

What would you do in this situation?

Joining a startup at the beginning of its journey has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. By getting in early, you could be joining the very next Facebook, Twitter, Uber, or Dropbox. If you have a good equity deal in the business, this could prove to be a very lucrative decision for you. 

The downside? 90% of startups fail. This means that if you join the wrong company or back the wrong founder, you could be back where you started quicker than you thought.

The key thing is to do your research into not only the prospective company and the industry but also the founder of the business.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to ask in this scenario.

What is a startup interview?

What is a startup interview? 2 ladies

Startup interview questions are an opportunity for you to meet with the founder of a startup (either face-to-face or virtually) to see if you are a good fit for each other. After all, recruitment is a two-way street!

The founder will want to know what skills and ideas you will bring to the business. You will want not only to see how successful the company will be but whether it is a place you could work.

Things to do before setting up your startup interview questions

Things to do before setting up your startup interview questions. empty interview chairs

You need to do your research before getting to startup interview questions. Not only will this help you appear as informed as possible, but this will give you more information about the business and the person who has founded it.

Here are some of the things you can do before the startup interview to boost your knowledge.

  • If the startup already has a product or service on the market, try using it. This will help you understand what it does and how you could potentially add value to it;
  • Look at the startup’s competitors. Sites like Owler and Crunchbase are good for discovering potential rivals. This will help you understand how much competition the startup has, and how well-established these competitors are;
  • Check the financial information. Again, you should be able to find relevant data on sites like Crunchbase. If you’re in the UK and the startup is a limited company, you can find detailed annual accounts on Companies House. Financial information will help you determine the trajectory of the startup and what its runway is like – how much time until the startup runs out of money;

and sure:

  • Research the founder, co-founder and other people involved in the company, including any investors. Where did they work before, and what experience do they have in the industry? If the founder has been involved in other startups, what has their track record been like? This will give you an insight into who you will be working with and what will be expected of you. If you know someone who has worked or is currently working in the startup, arrange to meet up with them for a coffee and ask them about their experiences

As well as these questions, think about what you want to achieve from working in the startup. Would you be working for a cause you are passionate about? Do you want to improve your skill-set and expertise? Do you want to network with people who could potentially help you out in the next stage of your career? 

This will help you genuinely understand whether the role is the right one for you.

What should I target on in a startup interview questions?

What should I target on in a startup interview questions? kid archery

The day is here. You’ve done all the research you can, have double-checked your Wi-Fi connection, and have got your lucky interview outfit ready to go.

As we mentioned before, an interview is not just for the founder to see if you are the right fit for the business. It is also there to see if the startup is the right fit for you.

Here are some of the startup interview questions you should ask, as well as some potential red flags.

1. What problem is your startup trying to solve?

This sounds like a straightforward question but is a highly critical one. If the founder cannot answer it, alarm bells should be ringing!

All startups should be in place to solve real problems that customers have. If they don’t, they are not likely to succeed. 

Take Juicero, a company that sold $400 juicing machines and pre-diced fruit and vegetables. Although it sounded innovative, it didn’t solve a viable customer problem, and the business quickly shut down.

2. What are your company values?

If the founder cannot clearly explain the startup’s values and mission statement, it could be a sign that the business is not organized and does not have a long-term plan in place.

Similarly, the values will give you a good insight into how you will be expected to work within the company. For example, if sixty-hour working weeks or checking your emails at evenings and weekends are the norm, you should find this out when you ask this question.

It will then be up to you whether you want to accept the job if you are offered it.

3. What is the most significant risk to your startup?

When you are responsible for a company, you not only need to know where your strengths lie, but where your weaknesses lie too. Asking a founder what they see as their biggest risk will help give you valuable insight into the business.

For example, if a founder says that money is the most considerable risk, they may be obsessed with keeping expenditure low or trying to find an investor.

Of course, if the founder says ‘there are no risks at all’ then this is likely to be a huge red flag!

Find out more about potential risks in the top 10 startup mistakes to avoid

4. What is the company culture like?

The company culture of a startup is inherent to its success. A startup could have the best product or service in the world, but this means nothing if people don’t want to work there!

Things you could ask about include the turnover rate, how diverse the leadership team is, where employees previously worked and why employees have left the business. 

Also, ask the founder what the best and worst things about working there are.

As well as asking this question in the interview, you will need to do your own research. Remember that the founder wants to give the best impression of the startup, and what they say may not necessarily match what other people are saying. 

Look at review sites like Glassdoor to see what employees think, or connect with former employees on LinkedIn and ask them why they left.

Find out more about the startup work culture and why it is so important.

5. What will my remuneration be like?

When you join any business, you will want to know how much money you will make and what benefits you will receive. Startups are no exception.

With startups, rather than a full salary, you may receive equity in the business. This means you will receive a share of the business in return for the work you do. It’s important to know how many shares you will get and what they will be worth.

If you do receive equity, you’ll also need to ask how long you will have to work at the startup to be entitled to receive it.  This is known as a vesting schedule.

More information about startup equity.

One thing to bear in mind, especially if a startup is a new one. You may not get paid on time or in full as things may go wrong. You will probably have to have some contingency savings in place just in case the startup is unable to pay you.

6. What do you see as your end goal?

Success varies for different startups. Some founders want to get acquired as soon as possible so they can move on to the next project. Others want to keep going and build the company as large as they possibly can.

How the founder answers will help you understand where your future at the company lies and let you ask follow-on questions. For example, if a founder wants to sell the business in the next five years, you may want to ask why they want to be acquired. You’ll also have to consider the eventuality that you will have to look for another role in five years’ time.

If they want to grow the business as much as possible, you’ll want to ask what resources they have in place to do this. Are they in a position to scale efficiently?

While a founder will be super keen to tell you everything that is great about their startup, you will want them to tell you everything that is not so great as well.

For example, if the startup is currently involved in any legal or regulatory proceedings, this may cause issues down the line, especially if there are any financial penalties.

You will also need to see if there are any non-compete clauses in place. This may mean that you can’t be poached by a competitor or create a similar type of startup yourself for a certain amount of time after you leave the business.

In conclusion – ask as many questions as you can!

You need to bear in mind that joining a startup can be challenging work. You may have to work long hours and carry out lots of different tasks, all for not a lot of pay.

Laura Behrens Wu, the CEO of shipping platform Shippo said it best: “Working at a startup is like building the jet engine while you’re flying the plane. And likely, there’s also a fire on the plane!”

However, choose the right startup, and all the hard work will pay off. Take your time, do your due diligence and ask as many questions as possible… and everything else will fall into place.

A good, conscientious founder will not mind that you ask a lot of questions. After all, you have a big decision to make, and they will want to do all they can to make sure make a well-informed choice.


Want to know more about starting a business? You Are Launched is here to help

Whether it is your aim to join a startup, or you would like a little extra help in getting the best people to join your brand new company, we can offer our support.

Our team of experts has been working alongside a wide range of lean startups since 2014. We’ve been helping them with everything from getting investment through to recruiting the perfect team of people.

Contact us today, and find out more about how we can help get your startup on the right track.

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