I’ve been asked many times by 2nd and 3rd year students if they should work at a Startup or work at a larger company (a.k.a. the famous “Startup vs. Corporate”). Having worked both at a large company, Procter & Gamble, and a small company, Ubiqua, here’s my take on the same topic. I’ll try to paint both sides of the story.
- Influence, Ownership, and Impact
Using an old proverb, I’d ask you:
“Would you rather be the head of a mouse or the tail of a lion?”
You can take a large role in a small organization. You make ‘higher’ level decisions and have a broader influence on the overall organization. Your results can have a larger relative impact on the company’s bottom line. Also, you can expect to have a broader scope of work, being included into strategic discussions that affect other parts of the company.
Alternatively, you can take a smaller role in a larger organization. Your decisions are less broad and more focused on your business/function. Your role is well-defined and more tactical, focused on the operations of the company. Your impact can be incredibly large, for example $100,000+ in cost savings, and this might represent 0.5% of the overall company’s value.
- Pace of Change and Uncertainty
Risk tolerance and uncertainty makes the speed at which things happen in both environments fundamentally different.
Startups face a great deal of uncertainty. Uncertainty can be manifested in many ways; such as validating product/market fit or closing the profitability gap. In order to reduce this uncertainty, the pace at which smaller companies experiment, build, break apart, and rebuild needs to be incredibly fast. There is usually less approval required in order to do so as well. It’s more of a “try and see what happens” attitude and you need to be more action-oriented. The quicker a startup reduces market uncertainty the faster it can build traction and achieve stable growth.
Corporations usually have slower paces of change. Over time, growing org structures result in longer chains of commands and well-defined operating procedures. In order to make a change, approval is usually required from a supervising authority. Additionally, any change to a business operation usually requires the support of others; so change is usually approved and executed through multi-functional consensus. The so-called “red tape” is simply a mechanism to ensure alignment and maintain smooth operations.
- Generalization vs. Specialization
The last point I’d like to share concerns your short-term development and how it relates to your future ambitions. Another way to think about it is being a:
“Jack of all trades, master of none”
At a very early stage startup you can expect to be all over the place. For example, in my new role at Ubiqua I’ve been doing Sales, Marketing, Operations and Customer Service. The reason for this is that there is so much that needs to be done I often need to help out in multiple aspects of the business. At different times you might need to define a new process, implement a new system, manage relations with a client, and contribute to strategic discussions. In a short time, you learn a lot about broader things like how to run a company and the growth challenges faced by early stage companies. This type of experience is valuable if you eventually want to build a company or later on want to narrow your scope into a functional niche.
At a corporation, you should expect to become a functional expert. Building mastery is strongly emphasized and tied to professional growth. In my case, after 14 months as a Supply Analyst at Procter & Gamble, I gained in-depth understanding of how P&G’s supply chain worked. After a while, I became the expert and point of contact for all of Duracell’s operations (my business). In my role, there were both tactical and strategic tasks; but all of them were focused on achieving operational excellence in the Product Supply function. This type of experience is really valuable if you want to eventually specialize in a specific function and want to learn best practices early on in your career.
There is no best option between getting a Startup or Corporate job. Each comes with its own perks. In my opinion, it’s important to understand the degree of influence and ownership you are interested in. You need to assess your own comfort levels when dealing with uncertainty and pace of changes. Finally, it’s important to identify the role that best builds your skillsets to match your long-term career ambitions.
Hope this helps! Let me know your take on the same debate and which is best for you!