Is it customary to leave a start up when something better comes along?


I've came across a job post for a software engineer position at a recent startup. The responsibility included pretty much everything that involves programming. I would be an employee, and will not have ownership. The job would be really rewarding and would be a great experience for me.

Now if I worked for this start up and somehow an academic position came along, I would probably take it because I personally am more interested in that. (The reason I'm not applying for academic positions from the beginning because there aren't any right now.)

This is normal at large corporates. People leave 6 months after getting hired because they find jobs that suit them better.

However, is this understandable for start up owners? I don't want to apply for the job if it would hurt both sides.


asked Apr 17 '11 at 01:03
180 points

8 Answers


Frankly, do whatever is best for you. Maybe you'll fall in love with the startup. Maybe it will be just another job. Either way, you can't really know for sure until you're working there.

If your dream job is in academia, do whatever it takes to get there, including getting another job in the meantime, including working at a startup if it sounds interesting. Who knows, the experience you gain there may help you later.

Don't overthink it.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 01:08
Alain Raynaud
10,927 points


I recall many years ago talking to my mentor about this very subject. One thing that stuck with me from that day is what he said: "never fall into the misguided loyalty trap".

Forget this mandatory loyalty stuff. Employer will get rid of you when things go the wrong way or they find someone better and cheaper. It is something entrepreneurs brag about how they fired their best friend, because they had to. Nothing personal - it is business.

Company needs to earn your loyalty and you need to earn their loyalty. As long as the company fulfills your needs and you do theirs - all good. Better opportunity comes along for you - move on.

answered Apr 18 '11 at 02:39
Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points
  • I second every line of this. Keep the loyalty for family and friends. Companies - it's just business. – Jas 13 years ago


Yes, it's quite common. I recently worked for a Silicon Valley startup where several people who were liked and respected and doing great work left after a few months for greener pastures. Nobody thought badly of them for it.

In your shoes, I'd go for this job. If an academic opportunity comes along later, one of two things will have happened:

  • You'll have come to love the startup so much you'll want to stay.
  • You won't have come to feel like that, so you'll take the academic position.

It's up to an employer to keep key employees happy. So if you decide to leave and they're left in a bad position, they will have done it to themselves.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 12:55
Bob Murphy
2,614 points


If you left quickly from a position where you had a lot of responsibility, this would definitely be damaging to the start-up.

While you can obviously do whatever is best for you, do try to be ethical about it. Either try to be honest about your situation with the start-up, or try to do a great job for them and get them to a good place in terms of their product before you jump ship.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 03:10
1,821 points
  • +1 for trying to help them out before you leave. The way I see it, every little bit helps. If you think that the startup is good, then take some time and help them out where you can/if you can. – Tony 13 years ago


If you don't have ownership, I'd see it as like any other job.

People leave startups all the time, even with ownership stakes.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 04:26
1,747 points


Nothing wrong with leaving for greener pastures.

It sounds like you might feel a bit of loyalty to your current employer. I'd think through what is really motivating you to change and see if there's a way to get what you want while staying.

I'd suggest having a constructive and candid discussion with your manager and see if there's a way to accommodate your needs. Before you do this, make sure you have a firm written offer from the prospective employer.

One tip: if you do leave, manage your departure so you don't burn bridges and offer to say for a couple of weeks to help ensure a good transition. You never know when your paths might cross again.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 04:51
Warren E. Hart
2,181 points


Sure it's normal.

In either scenario you're an employee, there is nothing unique about the fact that you're an employee at a startup vs. an established company. You should always take the better opportunity in life.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 04:23
Brian Karas
3,407 points
  • "You should always take the better opportunity in life." in expense of what? Maybe screwing someone else's startup? I might be exaggerating the results but that sentence is pure selfish and not might work as expected in business world as a long term strategy. – The Dictator 13 years ago
  • It's selfish, it's realistic. Sometimes you join a company and you realize it's not the right thing for you, not what you expected, or your priorities goals and options just changed in life. Passing up a better opportunity to stay at another company is not going make you very happy, and will probably cause resentment and other problems down the road. I'm not advocating that you just jump from company to company, but you also shouldn't stay someplace that causes you pass up a much better opportunity for yourself. – Brian Karas 13 years ago
  • there is a big difference between "sometimes" and what OP asked. He knows he's going to leave when an academic position is available. – The Dictator 13 years ago
  • @fx - yeah, and so what? Is the OP supposed to make a lifetime commitment to the startup? – Jas 13 years ago
  • @Jas read my answer – The Dictator 13 years ago


No one is going to shoot you because you left however I think you should let them know about your intentions before hand, after all startups are small, they invest money and time on new hires.

If they invest 6 months to you and you leave them because something better came up (which you were waiting, not something spontaneous ) you are a jerk. So if you don't want to be a jerk tell them in your interview, let them decide whether it's worth to invest you or not. Would you hire someone by knowing they are just in your company to kill some time while waiting for the next train?

answered Apr 17 '11 at 16:52
The Dictator
2,305 points

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