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Size matters – comparing corporate vs. startup life

(BUSINESS) There are tremendous differences between working at a corporation and working at a startup. Let’s discuss them in depth so you know if you’re on the right boat!

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large company vs. startup (image of two ships)

Where do you work? Take a second and answer that.

Did you feel that spark? Was your first emotion positive or negative?

I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

On one hand, it can be a delicate feeling that illuminates your life, where you just know you’re on the right path.

On the other, it could be a marathon with no end in sight. You could describe what you do, and be proud of your accomplishments, but you couldn’t very well explain why you do it (besides the money, we all knew that).

If you’re not on either end of the extreme, then you fall somewhere in the middle.

Our profession is a key part of our life. Its an identity or a person we become, and we spend over a third of our lives as this person.

Isn’t it worth it to evaluate how you feel about work? How to recognize what makes a good job good? How to work towards something we love?

It’s time to be honest about what work means to you. There is no reason to be apathetic about your place of employment.

You’ve heard the adage, “Mondays aren’t so bad, its your job that sucks.”

In this multi-part series, I’ll discuss the factors that can make a job invigorating, and provide you real ways to predict and measure satisfaction.

In this article, I’ll give you the hidden pros and cons of working at large corporations versus small companies and startups – using boats as a metaphor.

Size matters.

When joining a new company, a huge factor to your happiness will be company size and the organizational structure.

How large companies are different.

Large companies are like a capital ship cruising through the ocean. Outfitted with the a vast amount of resources and crew, the voyage is easy. A ship that large moves slowly, and life on board is not overly exciting. Each crew member has a specific, well-defined job, orders are followed to a T, and it becomes difficult to stand out. Crew members are regularly replaced.

large ship

Let’s talk about systems at large companies.

Despite outward displays of a flat hierarchy and fair company structure, it is the nature of large organizations to be bureaucratic. There are too many moving pieces to handle things case by case. In these organizations, there will be systems in place which serve the company at large rather than specific people or projects within.

This results in decisions you might find unfair or rules that seem to have no good reason behind them.

For instance, at large companies, you could be hired three days after a promotion eligibility cycle and be ineligible for promotion that year, even if you exceed all other performance criteria.

In the same vein, large companies inevitably have tremendous internal competition. There will be thousands (yes, thousands) of new hires like yourself looking to get a raise or promotion. It becomes hard to stand out, and politics can become a factor in your career trajectory, which is the norm for large companies.

Lastly, there is a lot of luck at play. It is common for the hiring managers and department heads to pick from the new stack of people. There is usually no hiring group that optimizes placement based on merit and skills, the first year of career can be dictated by your entry point into the company, a decision made by a stranger.

Its inevitable for large groups to develop power structures.

These structures often control the trajectory of the individuals underneath them – which can be very limiting to your career.

Unfortunately, you can be put in a position to pick people and alliances over the correct course of action; it is simply the nature of the game at a large company, and even this can be enjoyable for some.

As you move higher up the food chain, you will need to play this game in order to survive. The competition is simply too high, and the needs and wants of those within said power structures will always overshadow those not within a group.

You can tell I personally value career advancement from the negatives I perceived at larger companies. There are still a lot of positives, too.

One major upside is career stability.

It’s unlikely you will be laid off without knowing in advance at a large company. You can depend on a large company to employ you for several years, even when markets change and layoffs begin, you often get plenty of notice and can plan your exit.

Another (serious) upside is benefits.

The benefits are usually quite good, you receive nice equipment and can get reimbursed for extras. Health insurance and retirement savings options are seamless and setup quickly. Most companies also emphasize continuing education; there is no better way to keep your skills sharp at work, so take advantage of any resources you receive.

Networking is very different at large companies.

Any large company with a healthy culture has great internal communication. There are often groups based around each functional group (technologies, financials, design), and you are free to reach out to anyone.

You would be surprised at the people that would respond to an interesting email. Managers, even directors will typically make time to hear what employees think, even if its just to gather intelligence.

There is great ease in this environment.

There’s no doubt about it – working at large companies can be a lot more relaxed. All performance is measured proportionally to the group.

This is a double edged sword, it means you can coast or put in little effort and survive for quite some time. It also means it’s much harder to be promoted based on achievements.

There are 6 questions to ask yourself about working at a large company.

1. Is performance measured with respect to your experience level? Is there a quota or limit on the number of people that can be promoted?

2. Are there any rules or regulations regarding career advancement?

3. How easy is it to get transferred to another department, role, or project?

4. What are additional benefits aside from healthcare and retirement? What are the best ways to take advantage of them?

5. How open is the company to internal communication? Are there knowledge groups for your particular area? What extracurriculars can you get involved in?

6. How long do people typically work at this company? How long does it take them to get promoted from each level?

How working at a small company or startup is different.

Small companies are like a small warship. Agile and maneuverable, they avoid stormy weather. Each member of the small crew is invaluable, their job functions are crucial, and they often have multiple responsibilities. The ship moves a lot faster and consumes less resources, but could face peril in a storm.

speedboat

At smaller companies, we figure everything out together.

Depending on what stage the small company or startup is in, rules and regulations will be in development, or even non-existent.

This means although there aren’t as many resources for you to follow, and you could be the one to define your company’s processes.

If you’re a resourceful person, or you enjoy improving existing structures – you would enjoy the opportunities faced at a startup.

If you work better under well-defined and directive leadership, then you might fare better in a corporate role.

This means there are less obstacles between you and your work. There is a smaller hierarchy for you to consider when making decisions, and you will most likely complete work faster and can accomplish more.

You will have a better chance to take lead on projects, which often leads to quicker promotions as the startup grows.

However this also potentially means that things are being mismanaged by the lack of different perspectives. Beware of small companies in bad situations due to their past decisions.

It’s definitely more flexible.

On par with less regulations, there are less employee standards you have to live up to – this means you may be able to get flexible working arrangements.

But of course, there are sacrifices.

During intense periods at a startup, you cannot hide behind the accomplishments of your team – it simply isn’t big enough for that.

Everyone must do their part, and everybody’s part is crucial to the company as a whole. No coasting allowed – you will need to put in the hours to get the job done, no matter what, or risk consequences for the entire company.

This could be perceived as a negative to some people, or a learning and growth experience to others.

There may be a time where you will need to make sacrifices to ensure the company’s well being. This may mean staying late, putting off friends and family, etc.

Your life may revolve around work for more than 40 hours a week. At large corporations, you can get away with doing the bare minimum for quite some time.

I’m not trying to scare you, and a lot of this depends on the startup, but you need to be aware of the trying times that every startup goes through – when it’s make or break.

Within a small company, you will always be around the same group of people.

This makes the relationships between you and others paramount.

Negative sentiments between team members lead to a loss of trust and a failure of the business. This is why small companies will always hire culture-fit over experience.

I urge you to build one on one relationships with everyone at your small company – you will need this trust later on. At a larger company, you should definitely make friends, but know that you might not end up friends with everyone, and that’s alright. At a larger company, you can may end up being transferred or assigned to a new project.

One major advantage is the opportunity for growth.

You have tremendous opportunities, as most individuals in a startup are wearing several hats, especially pitching to partners or potential customers.

You will have the opportunity to pivot or take charge of the role you want, as long as you take initiative. Enjoy this freedom, and your help in these other areas will be appreciated.

If you take advantage of the opportunity, and become a valued and reliable part of the team, then there is no doubt your satisfaction will grow along with the company.

I would recommend you go above and beyond within the area for your role, establishing expertise and consulting for the rest of the group. You can eventually identify other areas that the startup needs help with and repeat the process there.

The elephant in the room is the risks involved.

Unlike large corporations, startups usually face formidable threats to their existence. There will be work that will be crucial for the company to become profitable, and failure isn’t an option.

This means if you show signs of being unable to handle it, you may be let go sooner rather than later. Even worse, if you end up flubbing a major project, everyone may be in jeopardy. That’s a lot of pressure.

There are 6 questions to ask yourself about working at a small company or startup.

1. How are you getting along with others?

2. What rules and regulations exist for your job function?

3. Can you recommend company practices; are they open to change?

4. How have the responsibilities of other people on your team changed over time?

5. What critical tasks does your team handle?

6. What happens if someone fails at their task?

7. What other areas of the company do they need help with?

No matter what ship you board, know that you always have the freedom to board another.

Do not settle for a trip in the wrong direction, at the wrong speed, or where you are not the captain – if that’s what you want.

Explore your available options, and you’ll then have the perspective to say: I have a great job.

Sarim Q, known as the tech.romantic, is a professional & creative coach for the tech, art, and entrepreneurial spaces. He shares personal strategy with ambitious readers, giving advice on productivity, networking, marketing/branding, technology, and startup strategy. After working with global consulting firms, startups, and running his own digital agency, he now offers his professional approach to personal pursuits. He is the Co-Founder of Socio, an experimental new social education platform, where you learn secrets of self, how to gracefully navigate social groups, and the process of building a legacy of your own.

Business News

Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Plastic bags

Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Business News

Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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Business News

American Express’ cash back program helps members support small businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Between now and September 20th, AMEX is providing $50 in credits to their cardholders to support local businesses.

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cashback program

It’s no secret that coronavirus has been nothing short of devastating for small businesses. Even with the Small Business Administration (SBA) offering financial relief in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), many small businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open. So far, the numbers have been astronomical — to the tune of some 100,000 small businesses closing down permanently, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research — and they’re expected to continue to rise as the pandemic drags on.

With that in mind, American Express has come forward with their own disaster relief program of sorts. Between now and the 20th of September, the credit card company will be offering a cash back rewards incentive for their cardholders. The program is fairly simple and straightforward: for every $10 (or more) that you spend at a small business, Amex will give you a $5 statement credit on your account. This can be repeated up to ten times, for a total of $50 in rewards. Not bad, huh? But the question remains: what’s a mere $50 in the grand scheme of things, and will it actually help out small businesses in the long run?

Well, first and foremost, $50 is no small chunk of change. For most of us, it’s a fairly decent perk, especially since it requires us to do what we would have done anyway (shop at local businesses). Whether you feel like getting takeout from your local mom-and-pop restaurant, you’re going to pick up a few groceries for dinner tonight at your corner market, or you need to take Fido in for a checkup at your neighborhood veterinary clinic, these activities all count toward the reward program. You’re literally getting paid for shopping locally. Easy peasy.

And secondly, historic data does prove that these incentives do work. Amex rolled out their first small business reward program back in 2010, called Small Business Saturday®, as a response to the mass consumerism of Black Friday. In 2015, the SBA decided to get in on the fun and joined forces with Amex, sponsoring the program. Even better, a study from 2019 revealed that a whopping $19.6 billion was funneled back into local economies thanks to the initiative. So while “just” $50 may not seem like much, it adds up to impressive numbers when seen from a more macroscopic perspective.

This isn’t the only program that has Amex’s name standing behind it, either. The company is also the driving force behind the Stand for Small program, which unifies larger businesses who are offering their own helping hand to smaller businesses. Whether you’re looking for assistance in managing your expenses, or you’re in need of help in growing your online presence, the Stand for Small program was designed to help make this possible. Large names like Amazon and eBay are included in the ranks that have rallied behind Stand for Small, lending clout to this program.

So what’s a little extra $50? Is it worth it to you? Sure, the intentions of some of these companies may be somewhat less than magnanimous — there’s no arguing that there’s something in it for them, as well — it doesn’t change the fact that in an economy that’s been crippled by COVID-19, they’re actually doing something instead of just sitting there idly and waiting for someone else to take action.

That, at least, has to be worth something. And if you’re wanting to get your hands on a share of the cool fifty bucks courtesy of Amex, they’d like to remind you that you do need to enroll in the rewards program no later than July 26. If you don’t, you may miss out on your opportunity to help keep small businesses afloat (while also enjoying an extra $5 in your pocket here or there), courtesy of American Express.

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