I get asked all the time about what it’s like to work for a startup vs. a big company. They are very different worlds, and there are pros and cons to both.
I know many talented, successful people who work for startups, and I know just as many talented, successful people who work for big companies. As someone who has done both, I can tell you that the right decision comes down to where you are in life and what you’re looking to accomplish in your career.
Should I Work for a Startup?
Startups always have too many things to do and not enough people to do them. That makes them the ideal training ground for more junior employees. You’ll wear many different hats and get exposed to far more opportunities than you would at a big company. Even employees who are further along in their careers will constantly have to pivot and develop new skills, which can be incredibly exciting.
Most people who work for a startup want to create something big and be a part of something special. The passion you put into a startup and the bonds you build in the process are extremely rewarding.
And of course, the potential financial gains can be extremely rewarding as well. If your startup successfully exits or cements itself as a profitable, sustainable company, it can be a life-changing event.
That’s a big if, though. Startups are fraught with risk, which is one of the biggest downsides of working at one. Further, this constant and very real threat of failure means startup employees need a high level of dedication to their work.
This dedication (some would call it obsession) can interfere with other aspects of your life, including your mental and physical health. Startups also lack training programs, clear career pathing and many of the support functions common in large companies.
After all that, no matter what you do as an individual employee, the startup still might fail. Do you need stability? If so, a large corporation might be better for you.
Should I Work for a Big Company?
In many ways, working for a big company is easier. Large corporations have brand recognition, which can help you sell and market your products or services. And they have plenty of resources, which can enable you to do impactful work that you may not be able to do in the early days of a startup.
But there are also challenges that you don’t face when you work for a startup. Chief among them: process and bureaucracy.
At startups, employees tend to have more autonomy and the power to make more important decisions, because even the most junior person isn’t that far away from the CEO on the org chart. In a large corporation, these major decisions may be made above your pay grade, because the wrong decision can have significant consequences. That can take some getting used to. Are you OK with not always having a say?
It may also take longer for a large corporation to make these decisions and act on them. Startups don’t have a process for everything. They need to be fluid, so they build and iterate constantly. But you need processes to ensure everything runs smoothly at scale, and processes can slow things down.
Startup vs. Big Company: Making the Decision
There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should work for a startup or a big company. As I said, there are pros and cons to both. Just be sure your choice is ingrained in your DNA.
But you have to understand that they are very different tracks, and not everyone can adapt to or thrive in both.
I originally answered this question on Quora.