These days, it seems like everyone is talking about getting on a rocket ship—a fast-growing company that’s ready to blast off. During my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to be on two as an employee, and part of a small handful of others as an advisor. I joined Yelp when the company had only a dozen team members. When I left, we counted more than 5,000 employees. Almost two years ago, I joined Opendoor as the Head of People and Development. Since I’ve joined, we’ve nearly tripled in size.
Being on a rocket ship is one of the most addicting feelings you can experience at work. I’ve hired thousands of people, promoted hundreds, and mentored many. I’ve also watched former employees walk away from a rocket ship for what they thought were greener pastures. I’m never surprised to see people leave a company they joined at an early stage once it starts getting bigger. Many times, they go back to working for a young startup again.
How to identify a rocket ship
During the early stages, you might be able to identify a rocket ship from a gut feeling—or luck. When I joined Yelp, I didn’t know it was going to take off; at the time, it had only launched in San Francisco and didn’t have many users. Just the same, I loved the product and felt that it was something millions of people would enjoy and find useful too. Luckily, I was right. I joined Opendoor when the company was further along. It had launched in seven markets over four years, and it was clear that the growth wasn’t going to stop. Even more, the metrics were strong. Though there were still many things to figure out, there was real product-market fit.
Both Yelp and Opendoor have the same thing in common: a passionate, focused, and mission-driven team. The CEO and COO at both companies are also people who have integrity and want to win the right way. This is important because a rocket ship isn’t sustainable and can’t scale without a focus on (and commitment to) its mission and customers.
How to tell if a rocket ship is right for you
Rocket ship companies come in different forms at different stages. If you want to consider working for one, consider the following factors: The company’s mission, team, and growth potential. Asking yourself the following questions can also be helpful.
1. “Am I willing (and able) to take a pay cut?”
You’ll almost always be able to find companies that will pay more than what you might make at a startup. When I joined Yelp, I took a 90 percent pay cut. I was willing to do it because I was making a career change. The company was in a very early stage, and I was offered equity as part of my overall compensation package. This isn’t uncommon at fast-growing startups, where companies offer equity to incentivize employees to work hard and make a company successful.
Cash compensation can be lower than what you might earn at a more established company, but with a rocket ship, the equity you receive will hopefully grow in value. After a few years, the equity you receive may be worth as much as 500 to 1,000 percent of what it was when you first started, rather than the 30 to 50 percent increase you might expect to see at public companies over the same amount of time.
2. “Do I like building and defining things, or do I work better with more structure?”
Joining a rapid-growth company is like building a plane while flying it. You won’t just be doing your job, but you’ll also have to figure out how to do it. Are you the kind of person who loves having structure? If you’re more comfortable with a clearly defined role, regular tasks, and predictable outcomes, a rocket ship might not be for you.
3. “Am I comfortable with change? Do I embrace it?”
At Yelp, we often echoed Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who said: “change is the only constant.” This has stuck with me. Joining a startup, especially a rocket ship, requires you to be comfortable with change. You’ll need to quickly adapt, think about creative solutions, and problem-solve every day.
At a startup, things are always in flux. When you think you’ve figured things out, a new issue creeps up, and you have to change things again. For example, the products you offer could change, so can the market need that the company is addressing. You’ll also likely see team members who aren’t an ideal fit join (and leave) the team as your company figures out the right hiring profile. Will this drive you crazy? If so, a rocket ship probably isn’t right for you.
4. “Do I love to hustle, or do I prefer working at a more predictable and relaxed pace?”
One of the main reasons rapid-growth companies can accelerate so quickly is because the team works long hours to stay ahead of the competition. 70-80 hour work weeks are typical, and that can take a toll on someone who doesn’t thrive in that kind of environment. If you want the potential upside, you need to be willing to make sacrifices for it. You’ll see that putting all of your energy into your role is worth it when you hit milestones with your team, play a role in your company’s growth, and see the mission you passionately believe in come to life and create positive changes.
Erica Galos Alioto is the Head of People And Development at Opendoor.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct length of time that Erica Galos Alioto has been at Opendoor.