What developers should look out for when deciding to join startups

Lanre Adeoye
4 min read
Remote Religion is a series which shines a spotlight into the life of a remote tech worker in Africa. We explore the promise and perils of remote work and how to navigate career transition.
In this edition of Remote Religion, we spoke with Lemuel Okoli, a blockchain developer about his experience working with startups in Nigeria. We talk about the red flags to be aware of when considering joining startups and how developers can approach the compensation conversation.

Really excited to be speaking with you, Lemuel! Please tell me about yourself.

My name is Lemuel Okoli, and I am a backend and blockchain software developer. I live in Lagos Nigeria.

You studied Agricultural Extension at university. How did you get started as a developer?

I got hooked on computers at a young age. After high school, I enrolled in NIIT to learn Java and become a certified Java Enterprise Developer. Before my Java course was completed, however, I gained admission to study computer science. But, by mid-semester, I had to switch to Agricultural Extension after I was informed by the university that I could not study computer science with the kind of WAEC grades I had.

Throughout my stay at university, I continued to learn software development (PHP and Python) and offer related services to my university lecturers, small businesses, and friends of the family. I even formed several startups that are now defunct with my friends. After university, I relocated to Lagos to become a professional developer and work with startups.

Why did you work with startups after university?

I chose to work with startups for two major reasons:

The first reason I chose to work with startups is to learn about them. I wanted to see how a startup grows from inception up to when they are no longer considered startups.

The second reason I chose to work with startups is to gain experience. Startups are one of the few places a committed and dedicated individual can gain lots of real experience in a very short time. In a startup, you are consistently going to wear different hats on a daily basis. You will be faced with unique challenges to which you must find a solution. To me, this is very valuable. I am very much aware that few startups succeed, but this doesn’t bother me. With the experience I’ve gained I can decide later whether to found my own startup or work in more established companies.

😀 Right! What should developers look out for when contemplating working with startups?

There are lots of things to consider.

The first set of things to consider are factors that will influence your personal growth. Bear in mind that personal growth is subjective - to some, it may be financial, while to others it could mean acquiring a new skill set.

The second set of factors to consider is the startup's culture, mission, vision, the history of the founders, the problem they are trying to solve, and remuneration. Interviewing to join a startup should be a two-way interaction. You should interview them as much as they are interviewing you while doing your own research and background checks. Startups are hard, and if you are not clearly gaining anything the journey might not be worthwhile.

What red flags tell you that a startup is not worth working for?

The biggest red flag is when startup founders offer you equity but are reluctant to put anything in a documented agreement. Sometimes they claim the startup is yet to be incorporated, or that they are in the process of incorporating and will document everything after incorporation and fundraising. Until it’s on paper, there is no agreement.

Another red flag is when the founders consistently demand insane work hours from you, including working all weekend. This will only lead to burnout, and once you are burnt out your performance will drop which will lead to you getting fired without a second thought.

Last, make sure there’s a clear job description and ask questions if confused. If you don’t get clear answers, it’s up to you to decide to continue or move on to other opportunities.

This is insightful. How should developers approach compensation when contemplating joining startups?

Your compensation is a direct reflection of what you accept as the worth of your time, abilities, skills, and experience. When joining a startup, there are a number of things you could do to make the compensation negotiation a win-win for both parties.

First, ask lots of questions so that you are able to fully understand the role. Ask for the budget for the role. Then research what other people in similar roles are earning. Next, assess yourself to know what you think you are worth.

Armed with this information, you should have an idea of what the compensation range looks like and negotiate accordingly. It is important to bear in mind that compensation is not just about money.

🤑 Asides from money, what more can developers negotiate?

Other aspects of compensation include bonuses, equity, health insurance, vacation days, learning resources, and professional summit or conference attendance.

There are more depending on the startup and what they offer. Some startups are getting quite creative with compensation packages lately, especially in the web3 space.

How do you maintain productivity while working remotely? Do you have rituals?

Working remotely over the past 3 years has taught me the value of rituals and discipline. Without them, you'll easily burn out or find your productivity dropping. Some of the things I do to maintain productivity are: keep a daily to-do list, schedule focused work times, exercise daily, take walks, do intermittent fasting, and get good sleep (at least 6 hours).

What do you do for fun?

I take very long walks, read books, and spend time with friends and family.

What are your plans for the future?

My plan for the future is to keep honing my skills, gain new experience, and co-found or found a company that solves some of the problems I've seen repeatedly over the years across several roles.

Thanks for taking the time Lemuel! How can people follow you?

Thanks Lanre. Here are my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

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