Startup culture is taking the world by storm. Silicon Valley has served as an example of how to rapidly build and scale a company to success. But startups also have a reputation of being a challenging  place to work. Work can be hectic and frequently people must play several roles. Things change quickly and employees must adapt.

It’s true that startup culture can be stressful on employees, but working at a startup also has many benefits as well. There are four main stages a startup goes through as it grows. Each of these stages represents a different kind of work-life balance for employees.

Stage 1: Seed and Development

This is the very beginning of a startup’s journey. The founders have an idea and have taken the first steps to articulate that idea in the form of a new company. The company is fragile and usually has limited funds.

From an HR perspective,  finding the right employees from the get-go is crucial to the success of the startup. Most startups usually begin with under 10 employees. These people must work essentially as a family. But not only must they work well together, they must work well in general. The early employees of the company must be dedicated and multifaceted in their abilities. Specialization will come later.

Stage 2: Growth and Establishment

If a startup survives and makes it out of its infancy, the next stage it will pass through is growth and establishment. These companies will need to be agile and adaptive. In this stage, there will be more hiring than in the first stage, but not on a massive scale.

The startup will need to select applicants with surgical precision. New employees need to have the right specialties for what the startup needs. It’s also important that new employees be comfortable with change. The startup may need to turn on a dime if necessary, and the people running the company need to be comfortable with lots and lots of change.

Stage 3: Expansion

During the expansion phase, the founding members of the company play a more hands-off approach to day to day business.  Instead, responsibility is passed to competent employees who understand the business well. Typically these leading employees will have been with the company for some time or hired for a specific area of expertise.

Additionally, during this stage of the journey startups will ramp up hiring significantly. The company is generating sufficient cash flow to bring on more employees. Human resources plays an absolutely crucial role in this stage. Startups need productive workers immediately, and it’s up to HR to source candidates and help develop infrastructure to ensure the company meets its strategic imperatives.

Stage 4: Maturity

A startup has reached maturity after it has been in the game for several years and eventually posts stable, year-on-year profits. At this point, the startup should be a well-oiled machine. The employees know what to do, many routines are now in place, and the company can reliably predict its needs into the future.

Employees who’ve been with the company from the early days likely have some equity in the company and may have been moved to positions of greater responsibility. New employees of the startup will join well-developed teams and will know exactly what is expected of them.

A startup is never the same as it was a year ago. Things are constantly changing and events the employees’ experience can vary widely. Some of these stages may be more desirable to an employee than others. But startups are versatile and have much to offer prospective employees. It’s up to each person to decide which stage they are best suited to make the type of contributions that benefit their career and the employer’s bottom line.

Marie Zolezzi, CEO and Founder of ZM Ventures has contributed to the HR functions of many large firms in the Silicon Valley, Intermountain West and the Pacific Northwest. Marie is a skilled HR practitioner with unique expertise in HR business partnering, conflict resolution, employee investigations, one-on-one coaching and organization management. She is also a skilled board advisor to the Board of Directors needing input from an HR thought leader. To contact Marie Zolezzi, send an email to

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