How to have Career Success at a Startup

Using the SAUS method in overcoming resource limitations and uncertainty.

Adel Hameed
6 min readFeb 16, 2023

More than 90% of all startups fail within the first two years of inception. According to a study published by CB Insights, one of the critical root causes of such failure is having the wrong leadership team on board. These leaders cannot handle the high level of uncertainty and work needed to ensure they build a successful company. This situation leads to small mistakes that start piling up as the team gets used to working together, overcoming their differences to succeed. Personal egos get in the way of progress, and bad decisions start getting rationalized. Bad culture keeps spreading amongst the staff, which causes high turnover, and eventually, they run out of cash and investor trust leading to bankruptcy.

Join a startup or stay in corporate?

There’s a 19% chance of getting terminated within the first year of joining a startup.

You’re not alone if the description above fits you. I’ve been in your shoes, learned from my failures and successes, and from interviewing founders and startup leaders I’ve been coaching and mentoring. Out of all the lessons I learned, I developed a system called a Skill-up-As-You-Scale-up, or what I have labeled; the SAUS system.

How does SAUS increase my chances of success?

Skill-up As You Scale-up (SAUS) is a system that helps startup leaders or founders simplify the complexity of building the operations of a startup. The SAUS system provides tools to help you stay focused. By learning and applying the fundamental principles, you can become a faster decision-maker and more confident leader without delving into the complexities of any advanced disciplines.

What’s the SAUS?

There are three components to the SAUS system. The first is the SAUS set of principles and philosophy that will help you have the right mindset and attitude to succeed in the role of a startup leader. The second component is the FASTMARC Framework, which highlights the eight key areas you need to keep the focus on as you build the operations of your department or function. And the third component is the MVO which stands for (Minimum Viable Optimization) which is a tool that provides you with a visualized plan and a checklist to help you implement small enough improvements without losing focus of the big picture or taking on more than you can handle leading to a project creep. To learn more about how you can succeed in your startup career through FASTMARC, please watch the following video:

Why join a startup then?

On the bright side, joining a startup is filled with rich learning experiences and an excellent way to have fast career growth. If you wanted to set up your startup and couldn’t do it, joining a startup could be a stepping stone that will prepare you for your startup. You could also earn shares through earning employee share options (ESOP) which are usually vested over four years from joining. The earlier you join, the more rewarding it becomes, especially as the price per share gains value over time.

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, you can consider the following:

  1. Flexibility — You get more flexibility in working hours even though they might be longer than usual.
  2. Skills — If you’re looking to set up your startup, it can give you the knowledge and experience needed to succeed at your next startup.
  3. Mindset — It provides you with a result-driven environment.
  4. Skill up — Opportunity to learn, experiment, and innovate.
  5. Broaden your horizon — A wider variety of work types. You could be doing presentations, answering customer inquiries, and preparing financial projections. As the company grows, you’ll set up a system, hire more people, and create more specialized roles.
  6. Recognition — The impact of your work is more visible to the rest of your peers and management.
  7. Innovate — Startups value creativity.
  8. Leadership — If you’re part of the top management, you will have to keep up with the company’s growing demand and avoid being a weak link or a bottleneck. You can succeed by being a fast learner, organized, building a system, hiring the right future leaders, and delegating work to them. As the company grows and more specialized roles are needed, you either have to specialize as an executive, transfer some of your responsibilities to peers, or step out and look for another startup to build.
  9. Growth — If you’re not part of the senior management, your chances are higher at growing into a senior management role with a startup than an established organization.

Is joining a growing startup or scale-up right for me?

I know a few executives who joined startups, but within the first couple of years, they decided corporate was more suitable for them. However, most of the ones I know will join another startup if they resign or get terminated. It’s simple: they caught the startup bug and can’t return to being part of a large organization.

There is no absolute rule on what would cause you to choose which option. The aim is to help you get familiar with the concept and do your soul-searching to find what fits you best. I’ll share some questions below to help with this soul-searching exercise to learn more about yourself.

  • Am I comfortable with uncertainty?
  • Am I willing to take calculated risks to achieve my goals and accept the consequences? (calculated being the keyword)
  • Can I control my ego and keep myself motivated and focused on the big picture?
  • Do I see failure as a way to learn and move on?
  • Can I work long hours?
  • Can I deal with a fast-paced work environment with many changes taking place?
  • In some cases, can I take a dip in the salary in exchange for vested shares? (usually, if you leave within the first year, you won’t be able to get any share stocks)

If any of the answers indicate that you fear failure or are in a challenging situation due to a unique family situation where you’re the only provider, and losing your job could form a risk, then joining a startup isn’t right for you at this time. You’re not alone. I’ve been in this situation before and found a way to escape it. The age-old saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Is this the right startup for me to join?

Here too, I’ll suggest the following questions to help you determine whether this specific startup you’re planning to join is the right one for you.

  1. Do I believe in the purpose of the company? Am I passionate about their mission?
  2. Do I see myself evolving and growing my skills in the areas that trigger me?
  3. What are their values and culture?
  4. Do they have employee share options so I can earn shares in the company?
  5. What are their salaries and incentives? Do they provide additional perks?
  6. Can I learn more about the CEO or line manager through my existing network?
  7. What’s the product position in the market? Do you know any of the customers so you can learn more about their experience?
  8. At what stage of funding is the company?

These questions aim at helping you get a feel and discover new things about the company before leaping into the startup world. The questions differ based on the age of the startup and your level of seniority. Otherwise, you could take the job because it’s there and it’s a source of income. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ll share more articles and videos detailing how the SAUS system can help you succeed in a startup’s top management role. To stay up to date with all the SAUS Series of videos, publications, and tools, follow me on Medium, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and sign up on ADEL8.com, whichever you prefer.

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Adel Hameed

Helping Startup/ Scaleup Leaders implement incremental operational excellence through the SAUS (Skill-up As You Scale-up) method.