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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

How well-meaning diversity and inclusion hiring practices could backfire

(BUSINESS) More companies than ever are considering their diversity and inclusion hiring practices and internal culture, but there is an unintended consequence already happening that could easily be stopped.

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diversity and inclusion practices

It is a widely accepted fact that hiring for diversity improves profitability, whether a small business or a massive company that pours resources into diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices companywide. You probably already know this, but if it’s news to you, Google around – it leads to improved innovation (since you’ve avoided an echo chamber), customer support ranks better for diverse teams (since your team has a wider ability to address more pain points), and it attracts more talent.

Imagine if you build a company and fill it with people that look, act, sound, and think like you. And imagine how agreeable everyone is during every moment of production, and no diversity of thought is ever injected. Any investor can tell you it’s a death sentence. To be blunt, it’s hiring “yes men,” so to speak, and does little more than serve your ego (consciously or subconciously).

American culture has rapidly evolved regarding diversity and inclusion (D&I). There are entire teams in companies dedicated to it (#profitability). I can tell you firsthand that the people devoting their jobs to this really do care. And today, more than ever, the topic of race (which is only one of many components of diversity) is top of mind, so we must all individually, and as companies, push to improve our workplace for the BIPOC while also remembering the LGBTQIA+ community, avoiding ageism, and so forth.

And while positivity surrounding D&I practices abounds, something is happening that is going to backfire.

Businesses are resorting to a “checklist” mindset wherein a CEO says, “we don’t have enough Hispanic women or trans employees, fix that” and drops the figurative mic. It sounds noble to see there is room to improve, but diversity and inclusion is about creating a company culture and hiring practices wherein people aren’t discriminated against, NOT fulfilling some impossible checklist.

I was in a meeting of a company inviting us to be on their board, and one of their first questions was if we knew any black women or Asian men that would join the board because they already had “most of the rest of the rainbow.” Again, sounds like the right direction, but it’s a hollow effort if you’re building a rainbow, not examining merit, not building out an actual culture of inclusion. Try harder.

And that brings us to a weak spot in this practice that we’re already seeing come to fruition. Large companies, particularly in the tech sector, are putting in the real effort to be inclusive, but it’s backfiring.

Companies are inadvertently segmenting their populations for D&I purposes, and while it’s not some evil plot, it negates all D&I programs. We’re witnessing “diverse” companies allow their teams to be built out, diversity-free. Perhaps their development teams are only white men, their marketing teams are only white and Hispanic women, their support teams are primarily Indian Americans, their sales teams are mostly black team members.

It’s wild to walk into a large company and see this strange… segregation.

It is natural to surround yourself with people that look like you, and I have endless theories on this topic, but I’ll confess to you that most of my thoughts have been influenced by reading “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum back when I was in high school (required reading for anyone pondering the topic of race now or in the future). And many practices are well-meaning, but companies are sabotaging themselves with flawed methods.

A company might look great as a whole with various ages, races, religions, gender identities, ethnicities, sexuality, national origin, and so forth, but if they’re all segregated into their own teams based on how they were hired (or by whom), it’s literally the opposite of diversity or inclusion. Swing and a miss, y’all.

If you’re in a decision making role at your company, please bring this topic up as soon as possible, and examine how your own diversity efforts are going – are you sincere, or just looking for positive press?

Are you helping overall?

Or just making things worse?

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Business News

Etsy is trying on second-hand fashion with purchase of Depop

(BUSINESS NEWS) With the younger generation moving away from fast fashion, it makes sense that Etsy has acquired one of the most popular Gen Z second hand apps.

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Woman looking at a rack of clothes in a second hand thrift store

Over the last few years, sustainable shopping has been a bullet point in the large-scale topic of the environment. Burning through clothing by disposing of old clothing and shopping from places specializing in “fast fashion” is causing damage to the earth.

According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

As a result, shopping second hand has become more popular, as opposed to mass-produced fast fashion. Online platforms like Poshmark and ThredUp have grown tremendously over the last 3 to 5 years.

Now, Etsy is getting in on the resale action through its acquisition of Depop – a second hand fashion app that allows for the buying and selling of used fashion items.

Etsy paid $1.6 billion to acquire the UK-founded company, which has attracted a younger, Gen Z-based audience due to its social media use and messaging on shopping in an ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion.

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said the company was “thrilled” to be adding what it believes to be the “resale home for Gen Z consumers” to Etsy. Depop has approximately 30 million registered users spanning 150 countries.

“Depop is a vibrant, two-sided marketplace with a passionate community, a highly-differentiated offering of unique items, and we believe significant potential to further scale,” Silverman said in a statement Wednesday.

“We see significant opportunities for shared expertise and growth synergies across what will now be a tremendous ‘house of brands’ portfolio of individually distinct, and very special, ecommerce brands.”

Due to the COVID-related e-commerce boom, shares of Etsy have more than doubled in the last year. The stock was up about 6.7% Wednesday afternoon.

According to data from Crunchbase, Depop had raised a total of $105.6 million from investors including General Atlantic, Creandum, Balderton Capital, Octopus Ventures and Klarna CEO and co-founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski, prior to their agreement with Etsy.

With fashion being so cyclical, it may be safe to say that second hand will never fully go out of style.

What are your thoughts on resale apps being the answer to fast fashion woes? Let us know in the comments.

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Business News

As masks become optional, businesses find themselves stuck in the middle

(BUSINESS NEWS) One liquor store’s decision on mask policy following changes in local laws has become a recurring story throughout the nation.

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Woman in front of small business with two children, all wearing face masks

The American mask debate has comprised a whirlwind of clashing political ideologies, legal dilemmas, and personal agendas, with businesses placed directly in the middle of the storm. As the pandemic continues to run its course, a disparity in state mandates and legislation is only serving to increase the strain on these establishments.

With increased access to vaccines and several states rolling back their COVID guidance, the option to wear—or not wear—masks is becoming more discretionary, with businesses often having the final say in whether or not they expect masks to be used on their premises. One such business, a liquor store, posted a notice regarding their staff’s decision to continue wearing masks:

“In accordance with Johnson County mandates: Masks are now optional. Please do not berate, verbally assault, or otherwise attack the staff over their choice to continue wearing masks.”

The notice went on to say, “It is painfully depressing we have to make this request.”

That last line epitomizes many business owners’ stances. Places across the country have started allowing customers to discard their masks with proof of vaccination, but if employees choose to keep their masks for the time being, it’s difficult for clients not to view it as a kind of political statement—despite their decisions often being corroborated by local laws.

And, as long as businesses continue to operate within the confines of those laws, their decisions should be free from public scrutiny.

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening as evidenced by the notice posted by the liquor store in Johnson County. The same disparity that allows for some freedom despite COVID still being present in many Americans’ lives often leaves those who choose not to wear masks to conclude that those who do wear them are being judgmental or unnecessarily cautious.

Those judgements work in reverse as well, with businesses who allow their employees to work maskless facing criticism from masked clients. It seems that the freedom to choose—something for which people strongly advocated throughout the pandemic—continues to cause separation.

As businesses change or adapt their regulations to fit state mandates and employee (and customer) concerns, everyone would do well to remember that the decisions these establishments make are usually meant to affect some kind of positive work environment—not to welcome harassment and abuse.

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