Startups and their irresistible offers to our employees


If, like me, you run a small to mid-sized business then I’m sure you’d empathize when I say that the startups are the bane of our lives when it comes to staff retention.

Like voracious vultures their HR officers and talent scouts circle our businesses for any of our staff who show promise. When they spot them, they open their deep wallets and swoop in on these young workers with offers so they will find difficult to resist.

I’ve been wondering if these enterprises end up empowering these young talents or ruin the rest of their lives. The source of this musings is because I know of the daughter of a family friend that quit her present job because this startup offered her, a person who has been in the workforce for 3 years, about Rp60 million per month basic salary, plus share options in the company.

To be sure. She is bright and talented. She could cobble together a good-looking PowerPoint deck and present fairly convincingly. But when it came to managing people she was still green, unable to convey instructions concisely and clearly and making sure that her direct reports understood and executed her instructions well. She still had to, like good wine, mature. Her ego still got too much in the way and she became defensive under pressure.

Someone like that, in a world not distorted by startups and e-commerce companies, would find it difficult to command a monthly salary a third of what she’s being offered in the communications industry.

To her credit, she sought some advice before she accepted the offer. Asked what I thought, I had one question for her: “What skills and experience of yours, do you think, their generous offer is based on?” She never gave me a clear answer but said she was fearful that an opportunity like this would not come again.

Pressed to elaborate what I thought I said she should not be to worried about missed opportunities. Indonesia today is awash with investors pouring money into startups, even those with dubious business models. They would still be around in a couple of years.

If she spent this time in a conventional business where she could be mentored properly she would, at the end of this period, be so much stronger professionally. She could then command an even higher salary then but more importantly she would be more equipped to handle the other aspects of a competitive professional environment – the internal politics, the art of managing upward, and the measured responses required when things go terribly wrong.

On the other hand, if she joined a startup now, she could end up like so many of the highly-paid young and talented people in startups today – good to look at and listen to, but not too closely, or the superficiality or immaturity will start to show, contributing to bad decisions, tamper tantrums and anxiety.

My pitch, however, lost out to the prospect of drawing a fat paycheck, a grand sounding title and the allure of working in a startup. She decided to join them in the end.

I didn’t feel too flustered by that because she was not working for me and she might be able to land on her feet after a few stumbles. But I can’t help wondering whether, on the whole the startups are doing any favors to these young talents and the industry with the irresistible offers.

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