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what do you ask a startup boss?

What do you ask the boss of a startup, given that i do not understand much about how to run a successful business?

So far it looks promising, but my previous experience with Startups wasn’t a good one. (the place closed shop and still own me two months of salary).

The company is about switchers/routers; (networking stuff).

Questions I did ask:
- Do you have a version control system?
- Who is your sponsor (they told me a name, but how do I follow up on this information?)
- How fast do you plan to grow? (That’s a meaningful question for a consulting shop. This place wants to produce switches/routers; it’s not that this product requires a pool of temporary consultants, who can burn a lot of money if they stay idle).

...
Friday, August 20, 2004

You should ask to see a clear business plan with financial forecasts in particular. You need to know what, if anything, their income will be before the product is developed, and whether they actually have the money to pay the staff and fund development in the meantime. How they will cope if development takes longer than forecast is critical as well.

If they want to hire you they shouldn't mind showing you. Especially if you phrase it as you're just covering yourself and making sure, rather than making a blunt demand for lots of information - make sure they understand why you are asking for it.

James U-S
Friday, August 20, 2004

Business is simple. Maximize your profits and minimize your expenses. Is the company turning a profit, or acting in a deficit? If a deficit, how long can they stand to do so before closing shop?

Really you just want to know about the stability of the company and the potential longevity of your job. Also you want to know about growth potential within your job. This looks good for you as well because you look like a "go getter."

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 20, 2004

Do tell them that you got burnt in the past. I have been there in the small company going bust situation and it's pretty shitty.

It might be worth asking for equity if you don't like their business plan / funding but think they do have a clue how to get from a->b.

I know when the whole thing goes under equity isn't worth anything, but it gives reward for taking risks.

Peter Ibbotson
Friday, August 20, 2004

in short, i would see if they have the "basics". I don't know what this is for routers,etc. But, for software development, I would ask a lot of the Joel Test questions.I would ask about other staff (ie is there a dedicated QA person?) Do they do requirements? etc.

Patrick
Friday, August 20, 2004

What is thier BACKGROUND?

What did they do before this company?

A series failed companies? If so, what did they learn.

BASICALLY, you can interview them just like you'd interview an employee.  Think of them as a business PARTNER. You're interviewing each other.

Oh, and if you ask intelligent questions politely, and get a negative ("how dare you question our ability, etc") reponse, that's a BAD sign.

"A" quality people don't mind good questions. It gives them a chance to reassess thier decisions and conclusions.  Lower quality people find this, instead, to challenge thier frail egos.

Again... ask VERY POLITELY. Seek to understand thier business, not grill them like a V.C.

Mr.Analogy (ISV owner)
Friday, August 20, 2004

First, Joel's test is a great place to start
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html

But, IMO, you'd like to ask more general questions that lead to cultural qualities.

For example:

1. Are you an engineer?  Do you have an engineering background?  If not, how do you resolve technical issues (assuming this is a technology company you're going to work for).

2. How do you manage a product release? This covers a multitude of issues:
a. How do you perform branches and merges in source control?
b. What policies are in place regarding QA, bug fixing, build releases, and development branches.

3. How are schedules put together?  If the answer is purely "business/market requirements", guess who is goingto be spending countless hours into the night hammering out code while the marketing team is sipping Margheritas and "talking business" while you slave away; understaffed and underpaid.  You will baby.

There are lots of other specific questions like "what documentation reuirements are maintained", "do you perform nightly builds", "do you have automated testing, or plan to perform automated testing" (actually, that might be a good question to ask).

But, if the startup is in its infancy, they will all be negative answers and you may be seen as badgering.

Therefore, I would look more to the cultural view of what engineering is and will be.  Fundamentally, you need to know if your talents will be viewed as a crown jewel of the company or a necessary pain in the ass.  IMO, it always comes down the that final issue.

If your software development/testing skills are viewed as something to be nurtured and grown (crown jewel approach), then you're going to be rewarded and find fulfillment.

If your skills and personality are viewed as a geek to be hidden in the back room and monitored by baby sitters (aka PM's), then life is going to suck.

hoser
Friday, August 20, 2004

These are good questions to ask at any company.

dot for this one
Friday, August 20, 2004

Thanks to everybody for the the comments; i will have a chance to test you advice.

...
Saturday, August 21, 2004

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