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The Rejection Checklist – 6 Instances When Not To Join A Startup

The Rejection Checklist – 6 Instances When Not To Join A Startup

The Indian startup ecosystem has been going through a major slowdown. The funding freeze has been on for months now, and many of the blue-eyed poster boys of the startup ecosystem have taken serious hits in terms of both business and valuation. Heads have been rolling from boardrooms while massive layoffs and shutdowns have pushed sentiment into a bleak morass from where there seems to be no immediate possibility of a turnaround.

Although things are not as hunky dory as they looked some 12-18 months ago, they might actually seem worse than they are. Our ecosystem is maturing, losing its vanity, and those who have been building silently over the years are now coming to the fore. There are still a lot of great startups that you could build a career with!

Yet, the very definition of the term ‘startup’, there has to be an element of risk involved. And risk isn’t risk unless there’s a finite chance that things don’t turn out exactly as planned! So rather than glossing over the chances of failure with shiny platitudes a good question to ask is,”How do I make it worth my while to take this risk?” More often than not, the answers to this question come up from two things that are fundamental to success at any startup – growth and culture.

Growth at a startup is stimulated from the stress on being hyper-productive yet efficient (non-wasteful), focussing on the core vision while ‘weeding out’ (cost cutting on) anything that’s deemed unproductive. Combined with an open culture – where everyone has ownership and visibility – this often translates into a self-sustainable enterprise (business model) where funding is used only to grow aggressively and not to survive!

So how do we ‘calculate’ this risk and arrive at a point where we can say “Yes, this is worth my while”?

The answer is simple – by going through a ‘rejection checklist’. At SquadRun, a rejection checklist is nothing but a series of non-negotiable conditions or red flags (depending on how you look at them). If the startup you are evaluating doesn’t measure up to any one of these – RUN!

Here’s our rejection checklist that you could use to power your startup career choices!

Is The Vision Audacious Enough

Challenges that push you to outperform will be the key to growth – both for you as well as the firm

The first item on your checklist – is this a story that you will do anything to be a part of? Imagine what AWS did to the server industry or Uber to the cab marketplace. If the work you’re doing isn’t audacious enough, chances are, your startup won’t end up making much of an impact!

Me-too startups usually fail this check. Ergo, rejected!

Product And Business Model

What you are building, matters. How you are building it, matters even more. Innovate at every opportunity; not at the cost of unit economics, but to make it more robust!

Be sure to ask – how does our business plan to make money? How are we going to get there? We understand that you don’t want to get caught doing the same boring things everybody else is doing – after all, that’s the way to have the least amount of learning. However, if the maths doesn’t add up to profitability (sooner or later) you will be out of a job!

At the same time, play around with the product and evaluate the problem that that product is meant to solve. Do you feel passionate about it? Willing to give 100% and a bit more? Build a bad product, and (sooner or later) you will be out of a job! These two are mutually exclusive conditions and very vital.

If there’s a definite need that your product is addressing and can be scaled sustainably to a large enough market, prepare to innovate your pants off. Otherwise – rejected!

Work With Top Talent

Great vision without great people is irrelevant!

The people around you will be key to your growth. Make sure they are learning from the best in the world, follow the best practices in the industry and are constantly upgrading their knowledge. You can check out the online/community contributions they make, peek into their personal projects and even have a glance at the mentor list!

So is this a group of people who are so smart and dedicated that every day you would be challenged to do better, just to keep up? Nope? What can we say but – rejected!

High Growth Curve

A dedicated team should be able to consistently punch above their weight-class (and should help you do the same)!

You have to be super-motivated and hustle about to figure things out, but ensure that you have supportive peers around who can push you into a fast paced learning (growth) curve. What this means is that you will repeatedly get pushed to go out of your comfort zone and learn/explore on your own, but have a great safety net to fall back on when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Not fast enough for you (typically teams meeting and discussing on the same old problems for months on end without actually trying to solve anything – FYI, this may be the team leads’ retirement plan)? Move on (er, rejected!)


To do your best, you may need to do it your way

High achievers always perform better when someone isn’t watching over their shoulders constantly. And great startups believe in their employees enough to give them that sense of ownership – it’s your work, you are the best one to do it, so go get it done! Look for workplaces that are highly aligned and loosely coupled, allowing for a high degree of flexibility and creativity while working towards the same end-goal. An ownership-driven culture gives you the freedom to achieve audacious goals.

Does your startup have a flat hierarchy with the least number of managers possible between you and your work? No? Rejected!


If you don’t fit in, you don’t fit at all!

Culture, perhaps, is the only passive element of a workplace that has an impact on the operational side of a business. And let’s tell you right now – there is no right or wrong here. Different companies like to define their culture differently, but they are all attuned to the same thing – how do we solve problems here? Amazon, for example, has a culture of ‘frugality’, preferring to spend every penny they can on better customer experiences rather than on employee benefits – did you know, desks at Amazon are built out of recycled wooden doors? Facebook, on the other hand asks employees to ‘ship code and get things done’, the rest is taken care of by the firm!

This is something that you have to take a call on – if it works out, great! If it doesn’t – rejected.

If the company you are evaluating has made it this far, it’s got to be a great place to work at! We are excited for you.

Of course, we also follow a rejection checklist when it comes to hiring for our teams! Our one point rejection checklist while hiring candidates is explained below.

Since inception, SquadRun has defied conventional logic in hiring people who do not necessarily have a lot of years to show on their resumes, but have demonstrated exponential growth in their chosen career paths through a hunger for challenges and the ability to execute on their learnings. The delta these people have been able to create in their learning experience year on year is what matters, not where they are currently situated in life.

This principle has allowed us to build lean teams with agile people and relentlessly pursue our vision – ‘reimagining how work gets done.

About The Author

[The author of this post is Saswata Shankar Deleads supply efforts for SquadRun, an AI-powered enterprise SaaS platform.]