Why Aren't More Graduates Considering Careers With Start-Ups?

25/05/2016 12:34 | Updated 25 May 2016

Six months ago, I lost my job. Sitting in an office with the CEO and Founder of the company I'd been working for, I heard the words no graduate wants to hear: "We're sorry, but we can't keep you on".

Having worked for the company, a start-up tech agency, for less than thirty days, it wasn't exactly how I'd expected my firstly monthly review would go. However, working at a start-up at a time when it's estimated that between 50 and 90% of start-ups will eventually fail, my predicament was hardly surprising.

Yet, it was unique. Unlike my fellow grads who'd beaten the one-in -ten odds and secured places on various over-subscribed graduate schemes, I had gambled and chosen a start-up for my first "proper" job, a decision that made me a minority. Despite the fact that 99% of businesses in the UK are small or micro-businesses employing fewer than ten people, after a quick look around any university careers fairs, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there are only four companies in the UK.

So why did I take the risk? And why, more importantly, am I now working for another start-up?

Well, truth be told, I did apply to a grad scheme. Several, actually, but they failed to meet two main criteria: the ones that made me offers were nearly always jobs I didn't want to do, and the ones that rejected me were nearly always jobs that my II.I in English Literature meant I wasn't qualified to do. So when a head-hunter put me forward for an interview with a start-up, where I could gain some of those much-needed skills, I went into the interview with my mind very much open.

Now, as mentioned, I'm in my second start-up role in spite of the aforementioned obstacles, and I haven't looked back. Like the handful of other recent graduates who choose start-ups over the likes of the Big Four, I've been trusted with more responsibility and offered more opportunities in return, benefits that Tariq Aris, a hedge-fund manager who left the world of trading to co-found the app 'Drinki', highlights.

"During the working lifetime of any person, the emphasis begins heavily weighted towards the acquisition of knowledge and slowly and continuously shifts towards pay and position"he says. "This is what makes start-ups like Drinki so appealing, there is no other environment where you are exposed to so much learning through action".

Moreover, from his perspective as the founder of a start-up, employing new graduates is highly beneficial."We are all trying to build big companies from very little in a short period of time", he adds. "For example, at Drinki, we're always trying to break into new markets. To do that, we need ambitious, open-minded young people who are willing to throw themselves into the mix beyond any "job description"".

Alex, 24, is one of those young people. An Exeter University graduate with a degree in French and Spanish, he manages sales and accounts for CRU Kafe, an organic coffee company that grew out of a kick-starter founded by three friends.

He says that choosing to work for a start-up was simple. "It meant exposure. Not only do I deal with sales but I also handle customer service, marketing, brand and design, to name just a few. It seemed like a opportunity to make an actual impact rather than simply being a cog in a machine".

His experiences are echoed by 22 year-old Hilary. After graduating from Manchester University with a degree in PPE she spent a year working as an assistant manager within a London-based chain of restaurants and is now the manager of Balls & Company, a start-up restaurant in the heart of Soho.

"At a start-up, you can see your team's work become the foundations of a growing and increasingly successful company", she explains, "it's an thrilling mix of trial and error, challenges and successes."

Both Alex and Hilary agreed that they couldn't imagine having the same opportunities at larger or more established companies, and nor can I. But, as I learnt from my first experience, the risks of working for start-ups are still very real and are only exceeded by the risks of actually starting one.

Nevertheless, that's exactly what Alice and Fleurette of Attollo Lingerie chose to do. Having met studying geography at King's College London, the pair co-founded Attollo lingerie while still at university to solve the problem of dowdy, uncomfortable and unflattering D+ lingerie. For them, not having the experience of the security or financial stability of a grad-scheme paying £25k plus, made it easier for them to choose to start their own business.

"At the age we were, we had no liabilities like a mortgage, family or children dependent on us or our income, therefore we knew financially this was the best time to get cracking with revolutionising the D+ lingerie market!" they admit."Neither of us had experienced job security or a comfortable and reliable income, so neither of us could imagine what that could be to give up. It was a privileged position to be in, as we had nothing to compare our penniless existence to!"

For them, the gamble has certainly paid off; Attollo's range of plus-size lingerie is now available to reserve on their website, while Hilary and Alex have both found equal career success and satisfaction at Balls & Company and CRU Kafe respectively.

So what differentiates them from the start-ups that fail? The answer apparently lies just as much with the graduates as with the start-ups themselves. All four of them are highly- motivated and passionate about what they do; while grad-scheme candidates can apply for a variety of virtually-identical different opportunities, start-ups are unique and offer graduates and endless variety of different working environments, roles and responsibilities.

As Tariq at Drinki says, "Find the right start-up for you. If you're enthusiastic about it, and you believe in it, it's far more likely to succeed". In my experience, he's right.