It’s the great American debate of the 21st century, right – startup or corporate?
Initially, we think of this question, and our minds run through the paces of the many buzzwords of business that apply to both structures. Leadership. Management. Vision. Operations. Financials. Products. Services. Yet, there are clear differences and big distinctions between how both a startup and a corporation approach all of the aforementioned.
But, really what it’s about is an ideological difference.
Because so much of the difference is about lifestyle – will you thrive in a startup lifestyle, fast-paced, risky, unpredictable? Or will you thrive in a corporate lifestyle – steady, stable, constant?
When we talk about lifestyle, we’re also choosing to dig a bit deeper – this conversation is actually about fit. Are you a good fit for a corporation? Are you a good fit for a startup?
Dig a bit deeper though, and you’ll find it to be a personal conversation. Are you a good fit for a corporation? Are you a good fit for a startup?
When looking for an opportunity, how often do we consider fit as a lifestyle choice? And how often do we consider fit if we’re an engineer?
Here’s a quick reference guide for some perhaps less talked about characteristics of both cultures to consider as you weigh your decision to go startup or go corporate.
It’s not rocket science – corporations and startups move at entirely different paces.
In many cases, corporations, the grand stalwart of American business, are slower to move; blame it on bureaucracy, politics, or a grandfathered-in attitude that ‘we take our time’; but perhaps its oftentimes the sheer size and scope that makes a corporation not as nimble or agile, but steady and stable. Junior engineers or engineers coming up the curve might relish this environment – not only for space and grace to learn, create, and test but also for the community of team that moves at a place that supports questions.
If you’ve not yet experienced a startup, the rumors are true. The pace is fast and high energy; the personality reflects just that – the people are fast and high energy. Startups soak up and thrive off that pace because it allows them to be that which is the opposite of a corporation – nimble and agile.
Startups crave personalities that can (and will) dive right in – people who know and respect this pace; people with previous professional experience working like this.
With that said, when it comes to pace, startups generally shy away from two types of personalities – junior engineers who lack experience or engineering job candidates who look and feel as though they will demand time, energy, and attention from colleagues of managers.
The truth – if you’re at a place in your career where you feel like you need all three, you will most likely be passed over at a startup.
There’s a lot of talks these days about culture – the culture of a company, regardless of size and scope, and how the culture supports its people – and vice versa.
The success of startups – ironically now corporations – like Google and Facebook have made it clear that the world buys into a culture. Corporations are adopting and backing into the cultural conversation now – corporate giants have cultures that are acknowledged internally and externally.
Sometimes though, in the culture talk, we forget the most important fact – culture is driven by people. Which is why culture and fit is a hot topic when it comes to firing an early stage team for a startup. Much as with the conversation about pace, cultural fit is driven a lot by personality. An early stage team is driven by culture – by people – who move fast, who are agile and flexible, who are ready to go the edge of limits, who are risk takers, who thrive in the build-test-fix-repeat, who see the work day as a lifestyle that extends before 9 am and after 5 pm. As an engineer in the trenches of product development, you must be willing to serve and contribute to this culture.
Good startup culture is built by a community of people who share this ethos most especially in the early stages of growth. In a startup, you’ll work closely with people; sometimes uncomfortably close with no guarantee any of this will work; which means you need to be surrounded with people who are in it the same way – they share your ideology, working style, motivation, drive towards risk.
In that sense, culture is really about compatibility and how flexible, compatible, and easy to work with you are.
This blog by TripleByte is a personal favorite; it covers it all when it comes to the critical conversation about culture in a startup.
The Long Play
As sexy as it looks and feels to buy a beer for a girl and tell her you to work for the hottest, not yet discovered startup, there’s a cost to the startup life that might not be part of the story if you go corporate.
It’s an opportunity cost.
The truth – an engineer who chooses to work for a startup will generally forgo 15% of his base salary from the get-go; granted, he will receive equity in exchange, but it’s a risk that depends on a lot of TBD factors – from initial investment to timeline to a product, service, or platform crossing a finish line profitably.
In this sense, an engineer needs to be willing, eager, and ready to shift his focus from short-term gain to the long play.
This isn’t just a job – it’s an investment. And a candidate should look at himself as an investor in this startup.
Just as with our conversation about culture, a candidate needs to be clear on how naturally he can align himself with the startup’s mission, values, and objectives to make it a win. Because of this opportunity cost, it’s critical you plan to stay along for the ride. But, again, to make that commitment, you need to be ready to work at a certain pace and feel a solid connection culturally.
The truth – odds are that the startup you pick will not succeed. 90% of startups fail for any number of reasons – many of which are out of your personal control. As the third largest tech startup community in California, Los Angeles – our entrepreneurs and their respective teams – know this truth well. It’s both risk and reward.
Which is why, when you’re taking a leap this mighty, it’s important you anticipate, question, and dig into key factors including pace, culture, and the long play early and often. Because this isn’t just about accepting a role; this is about making a smart and strategic commitment to a lifestyle.
As much as you think finding and pursuing a good fit is as simple as asking yourself ‘startup or corporate’, consider this – fit is personal.
Finding a good professional fit is about setting yourself up well for the best chance at longevity, prosperity, and personal fulfillment. Which is why the emphasis in that original question – are you a good fit for a startup or a corporation – shouldn’t be about the startup or the corporation – it should be about you.
Cadre is a quality over quantity boutique recruiting shop specializing in all things software engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles. Cadre is building a talent network utilizing AI and Machine Learning to help solve the tech talent crisis across their portfolio of 85 startups throughout California, Seattle, and Austin.