Startups Vs Big Companies: Which is Best For You?

Knowing the difference of startups vs big companies can provide more clarity for your long-term career goals. As someone who has worked at both, I’m here to tell you exactly what those differences are.

Let me start off my saying that both startups and big companies are great. The two main differences are typically operations and finances that can have an impact on your happiness at a company. Depending on your career goals and lifestyle, there’s a few factors that will help determine which you would thrive best in. Most humans are adaptable and can handle both environments, but there’s a reason why startups vs big companies are a topic of discussion. 

Startups Vs Big Companies: Which is Best For You?

Startups 

My first big girl job was at a startup and I couldn’t have been more thankful for the experience. It taught me so much about the workplace and gave me skills in areas I never though were possible. Startups are fast-paced, vulnerable, quick to change, fun and vibrant. They’re oftentimes extremely innovative, messy, goal-oriented and brainstorms galore. 

Structure 

Startups have a reputation to be much less structured than a large corporate company and that’s because there’s far less people to manage. They typically have 500 or less employees and therefore pull focus in other areas like strategy and growth.

It’s very common that startups to focus on doing things differently and more innovative rather than doing things more traditionally. This is a huge benefit to startups because they’re filling gaps and solving specific targeted problems in the market. 

Operations 

You’ll typically have one or a handful of people that manage the operations of the business. This could be the CEO, HR Manager, Finance Manager, etc. You’ll likely report to one or all of them quite frequently.

Staying in close touch with top leaders in the company is a huge benefit. Oftentimes, operations are created on an ongoing basis which means you will absolutely have your hands in company spreadsheets, order forms, contracts and all sorts of important documents.

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Having this much insight into the operational side of the business will teach you so much of how to run a business in general. It will tell you very quickly what’s working and what isn’t.

Pay

This is dependent on the industry you’re in and how well the company is actually doing. I can tell you that it’s possible to be making a very generous salary because there’s more money for employees when the profit is high and expenses are low.

Startups typically have lower bills and expenses, especially if the office is small and not in prime real estate. At the same time, because the company is smaller and may not generate consistent revenue like a large company would, this means you may not enjoy benefits like being able to expense work-related things or have that large bonus at the end of the year. So again, it really depend on the industry you’re in.

Culture 

The culture can go either way and this is all dependent on the person (CEO usually) who establishes the foundation for company culture. With such a tight-knit group of people, you can truly benefit by having an insane company culture where everyone is heard, seen, involved and happy to come to work everyday.

A perfect example of this includes the company Zappos, in the very beginning stages. I highly recommend reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh to see a perfect example of a thriving and growing company culture. 

Quality of Life

While a startup can be full of new learned skills, uncharted territory and exciting opportunities, it often comes with long hours and the absolute must to accept change and be solution-oriented. Being prepared to wear a lot of hats will get you quite far with startups. It’s a messy but rewarding way of life. 

The Downside

Unpredictability will be at the forefront of most start ups which means you won’t always know what your job will look like in a few years or even what the company will look like. While it may be fun to run with your ideas and be more creative, the lack of structure and resources needed can make the job stressful. 

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Big Companies 

Ahh corporate life. You either love it or you hate it. As someone who loved her corporate job, I will say that your personality and ability to be managed has a lot to do with if it will be a right fit.

Big companies typically have a longer hire process, more departments and avenues to consider for your career and are generally more stable. Big companies thrive off of values, profit, systems in places that work and employees that can get the job done. 

Structure 

With a more established company, comes extreme structure. You’ll never have to worry about how something is done or where to find things, as there are endless resources to help you do your job.

The onboarding process, online learning and multiple-day orientations are what set you up for success. It’s almost the same for everyone who joins the company, so everyone can be on the same page. 

Operations 

Big companies always have a detailed and controlled operations system lead by a few to hundreds of people in the company. Values combined with operations are the very core of how a big company thrives. Whether you work in operations yourself or experience the operations system on a day to day basis, you’ll quickly learn just how intricate and intentional it is ranging from a client experience in the elevator of the building, all the way to a large offsite holiday party for employees. The larger the company, the more the reputation management is important. 

Pay 

Again, I can’t say for sure as every large company is different, but you typically will earn a salary, end of year bonus, and have benefits that come along with your employment, that you may not always get with a startup.

A generous benefits package can make a huge difference when offering a job to a potential employee. It creates more security and confidence in working for a company that invests so much time and money for you.

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Culture 

Big company culture varies depending on interest within the company, but can be insanely fun as well. With a bigger company comes more money and with more money comes more and/or high-quality happy hours and events.

Although culture is structured and intentional compared to a startup, it can make or break the reputation of a company. There are just so many people to please and so much competition out there. Corporate life definitely comes with its standards and jargons but can make for a very wise and longterm career path. 

Quality of Life

Most big companies come with your typical 9-5 workflow, depending on your role. One huge benefit of this is being able to “sign off” at the end of the day. It makes for a better work-life balance so that you don’t feel like your brain is wrapped around your job all hours of the day. Generally, the quality of life predictable, but very satisfying.

The Downside

Depending on the company, you can sometimes become a “number” given that there are thousands of employees. Creativity, freedom and decision making oftentimes involve several others as well which can slow down your workflow. Following all strict corporate rules and getting approval for almost everything is something you’ll definitely have to get used to.

What They Both Have in Common

Startups vs big companies doesn’t mean it’s one side against the other. Like I said, both are great. The similarities I’ve noticed all come down to mindset and brainstorming.

I’ve worked with a lot of different people from various backgrounds and cultures. Although the structures of startups vs big companies may be vastly different, growth mindset is always a common goal. At the end of the day, startups vs big companies can both be viewed as establishments that constantly strive to be better, regardless of size. 

Which would you want to help make better?