At some stage in almost all careers, we encounter a choice between big and small.
“Will I be better off in an established corporate with plenty of resource and large-scale projects, or would a scrappy startup allow me to gain more responsibility and fast-track my career?”
Well, the answer is - there’s no right answer. Startups and corporates alike can be a fantastic place to build a tech career, and many people will try both over the course of their working life. While size isn’t everything, there are certain characteristics of startups and larger firms that you might want to consider before taking the plunge. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Smaller Startups (Funding: Seed or Series A. Employees: Under 50)
Benefits: Working for a high growth startup takes you on an amazing journey. Your colleagues will become your family, and seeing the company grow can be extremely rewarding. You’ll get to wear different hats, which can enhance your skillset, and often you’ll gain responsibility beyond your experience level, which will look great on a CV.
Drawbacks: You’ll likely sacrifice a high salary in return for equity, and it’s impossible to tell whether the company you are joining is the next Uber, or one of the 92% of start-ups that fail. Startups can be chaotic, require dedication (read: long working hours), and you’ll need to be prepared for several changes in direction. If you’re someone who gets frustrated with constant change and uncertainty, you may find this difficult.
Sanity Check: Early-stage start-ups can be risky, so do your due diligence. Does the product have a clear value proposition? Does the road-map make sense, or is it wildly unrealistic? How well-funded is the company? What are the credentials of the founders? If it’s ticking these boxes, it could be worth the risk.
Mid-size start-up or ‘Scale up’ (Funding: Series B+. Employees: 50 – 250)
Benefits: Sometimes the ‘scale-up’ can be a good middle ground – large enough to have achieved brand awareness and have established operational processes, which will support your career, but small enough to still have potential for growth. These companies may offer equity, but are also likely to pay better and not require the obsessive dedication that some start-ups require.
Drawbacks: If a company has grown fast, they may have less experienced people running departments, which some people find frustrating. There’s also the risk that you get the worst of both worlds – an uphill struggle for brand recognition and commercial success, but without the opportunity to take senior roles and a decent slice of equity.
Sanity Check: Where is this company at in it’s development? If it’s yet to reach mainstream success, why is this? If you think it’s at the right place on the growth curve and you believe in the product and founders, it could still be a good option.
Large corporate (Employees: 250+)
Benefits: Working in a big brand will ensure that your CV always gets a look. You’re also likely to get better salary and benefits, better job security, and more structured opportunities for learning and development. Working in a larger company will enable you to access bigger projects with wider scope and often cutting-edge resource.
Drawbacks: People usually have well-defined roles in corporates, which means if you’re looking for cross-disciplinary growth, or the chance to add value outside of your specific job role, you may find it difficult. Promotion is structured, so it’s often slower than in startups – and in some companies you may reach a ceiling if your boss isn’t about to leave.
Sanity Check: Large corporates are ripe for disruption, so how much weight does the company place on innovation and development – and how far is it prepared to ‘disrupt itself’? (think Apple, who disrupted the iPod by creating the iPhone). If you’re entering a big corporate, try to get a feel for culture and organisational politics – is there a meritocratic, collaborative structure, or is it hard to get anything done without treading on people’s toes?
So... How do I choose?!
Every company and role is different, so if you’re comparing two opportunities, think about the pros and cons of each. But generally speaking, you might want to think about what kind of environment you’re more likely to thrive in. If you are focused on your discipline, and you prefer a clear, structured progression path, then you might be better off in a corporate environment. If you’re an ‘all-rounder’ who thrives on doing a bit of everything, and fancy the uncertainty and pace that start-ups bring, you might be better suited for a smaller company.
For exciting roles in both large corporates and startups alike, be sure to explore Headcount's latest job opportunities.