Working for big business certainly has its perks, there’s no doubt about it. Stability, direction, benefits, work that is defined – you name it. For some, this is the ideal work environment. We plot along through our 8-5 and enjoy the consistent pace that comes with it.
For a growing number of professionals while the world of big business has its strengths, it also serves to hold us back in our careers which is why we turn to the start-up world. How do I know this? I’ve lived it myself. After more than 10 years of working for a $6B company I left and went into the start-up world.
My story, while it may not be unique, is a growing story many others now share.
Why do people like the idea of start-ups?
First and foremost, it can be an exciting place to work. Decisions are often made speedily, there’s typically much less bureaucracy, work is more flexible and of course it tends to be much more creative. We also have the ability to learn much more about our jobs and the impact it has on the overall company and or business. Therefore, it is possible to say being in the start up world allows us to become better business people in the process as we get to see the big picture, not just our individual roles and workloads like what happens in big business.
Then it’s settled, everyone should work in a start-up! I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in that kind of an environment?
Hold up compadres, pump the brakes a moment. The start-up world is no picnic. Yes, the start-up world is exciting and full of daily innovation and discovery but it can also be rife with challenge, uncertainty and stress. Not everyone is built or meant to be in the world of start-ups. We may think we are however the reality is some of us are just better off being in big business. Before you jump ship from your large company into the world of a start-up (and or small business) take a moment to check in with yourself on how you land with these five characteristics which are vital to ones success in the start-up environment:
1.Working Outside the Box
When we work for big companies often times our job and daily output is focused on a certain set of tasks. It’s the opposite in the start-up world as often times the mentality of those who are successful in this space is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and company moving forward. This includes taking out your own trash! If you’ve ever said “that’s not part of my job description” in response to work that was requested of you I would recommend taking a hard look at whether a start-up or small company is the right move for your career. You don’t have an option to be picky in a start-up, the only option is to do it. Even if that means taking out your own trash.
Working 8-5 in a large company can be a great perk. If you’ve done that for any length of time you may have forgotten how nice it is to mentally shut off at 5PM. In start-ups working 8-5 is non-existent. It’s common to work long hours and or be tethered to your smart phone around the clock. The statement ‘work life balance’ is blurred beyond recognition in the start-up world. Those that are successful here know and understand that it takes time and effort to create something. How dedicated are you to making that happen and what are you willing to give up in the process?
Working in a large company doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is clearly defined and outlined yet it is typical that SOPs (standard operating processes) are at the very least available for workers who choose to use them. In the start-up world you may find yourself creating these on your own. Take a moment to think how you would feel about being confronted with a daily situation where you are supposed to be working hard, hell – harder than ever before, and there isn’t a lot of direction or support to help you in that effort. If the thought of that excites you than the start-up world may be a breath of fresh air, if not then maybe your 3 foot wide cubicle and plush ergonomic chair your large company bought is the safer bet.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a start-up in my opinion. Leadership. If you haven’t worked in the start-up world before you may not be aware that people in leadership still do much of the hands on work. In big business this is hardly the case. Neither camp of leaders are necessarily better than one of the other, it’s just a very different environment. In start-ups every person on the team has to give 150% to the cause which means those who don a leadership title still have to get dirty in the day to day work. The reason you want to consider this as a part of your ‘can I make it in the start-up world’ is because leadership ultimately can have a great or very grave impact on the start-up business. Seems a bit obvious but when someone is doing both daily work and in charge of strategic decision making their influence and involvement has a much greater impact. In big business if a company experiences a failure with one of their leaders it typically can be salvaged whereas in the start-up world one or two costly mistakes by leadership will send the company into a grave six feet under.
Start-ups offer an intimate working experience. Working in a start-up everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s close quarters with high amounts of communication, partnering and feedback. Collaboration of course exists in big business but not at the intimate level of the start-up. When we work for a big company we are often a part of a team but doing work independently, even times on our own little island. If you’ve come to enjoy your island and aren’t interested in having neighbors up in your grill on the daily than perhaps staying in big business is the right decision for you.
A professional life in a start-up can indeed be a rewarding and exciting adventure. Once we’ve spent some time analyzing what’s most important to us in our career and what we’re willing to do to get it than we’ll have a better idea of how the start-up environment and career fits in with our plans.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.