Most young people face the decision of either joining start up/small company or a big corporation when job searching, and rarely have experiential information on the advantages / disadvantages of each. On this post and series, I share my experience working for a start up, the advantages and disadvantages, and what I belief is the right skill set one needs to thrive in a start up.
I had a similar dilemma after finishing university, when after a couple of months with my current employer I got an offer to join one of the big 4 audit companies, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), at twice the pay.
I declined the offer.
A couple of years later, I would decline to join Deloitte corporate finance (highly sought after job), and a well known ISP, in favour of my current employer, a start up real estate development company, giving up opportunities to make more money than I do, and the name a big company would have given me.
I believe working for a start up fresh from school gives you several advantages, that joining a well established corporation wouldn’t. I speak from experience having looked at my peers who joined big corporations and the extent of their career growth in those corporations.At a later stage, if you feel so inclined, then you can make the transition to a big corporation, though this rarely happens, because either the company grows with you, or you eventually quit to start your own business.
1. Responsibility: Most start ups recruit on need basis, when you join, you’re likely to be the only employee in your department, and in some cases in the whole company! I was employee number 2 in the company in 2006, and on my first day of work, the director handed me a CD that contained the company’s books of accounts,pointed out a cabinet that was full of box files, and told me to get to work. The next day, he traveled out of the country for 2 weeks. I’d never worked on a company’s books of accounts before (save for a short internship stint), but I knew what was expected of me. Within 3 months, I’d cleaned up the company’s accounts and was presenting reports on time, something that hadn’t happened in that company for a while. 6 years later, I’m second to the CEO and head one of our subsidiary companies.
A start up will most likely throw you in the deep on the first day. There are no fancy induction and training programs or introductory staff lunches, but working for a start up exposes you to a lot early in your career, enabling you to grow faster. Despite the level of responsibility, it’s very hard to burn out when working for a start up, I believe the environment is much more humane.
2. Flexibility: When you work for a start up, it’s easier to fit in your other interests to your career. Not all start ups give flexi time, but because structures aren’t established yet, it’s possible to have more flexible working arrangements than in established companies. This works out well for our generation where most people have other passions that they’d want to develop into fully fledged businesses some day.
I was able to co-found an advisory company, dabble with farming for sometime while working fulltime. My employer knew about all these interests, and would sometimes give me time off work to pursue them. What is key however is, you have to put in more than you take out. If you go out of your way for the company, it’s reciprocated, because the company isn’t faceless “management”, but the entrepreneur you’re working with side by side,everyday.
3. Exposure: As I mentioned earlier, most start ups have a very low staff count. This means that you will be exposed to the entire business from the first day, and if entrepreneurship interests you, this is a great opportunity to learn how business works. Most entrepreneurs are keen to hire and mentor their kind, so if you show interest, your employer is more likely to take you under his/her wing and mentor you.
Working for a start up has exposed me to very interesting business situations. I started out as a trainee accountant, honed my finance skills, had a stint as a finance manager, then an operations manager, at some point a hotel general manager, and now I am in the process of setting up two businesses under our current business. It’s been a lot of work, and along the way my friends and family didn’t think it was worth it, but the way I see it, I’m an entrepreneur who earns a salary, and takes risks with other people’s money. One day when I set out fully on my own, I will have learnt all it takes to succeed in business.
All businesses aren’t identical, but entrepreneurs make similar kinds of mistakes.
4. Financial Benefits: Not all start ups pay poor salaries. Ok, most do at the beginning, but long term, it pays off.I turned down the Price Waterhouse job at the advice of my now mentor (who was my boss then, and a PWC lifer). I remember him promising that in three years time, I would be better off financially than my PWC peers. He had vested interests, I didn’t give his statement much credence. Now, six years later, I can honestly say I’m better off financially.
I have not necessarily made more money than my peers (I may have), but there are certain peculiar factors about working in a start up that have made me more successful financially; first, in a start up, you run your own race. There’s less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” at work (there are no Joneses remember? ). For example, my first investment wasn’t a car. I bought a car after I’d bought some land, lost money in the stock market and in business etc. There was no pressure to keep up. In my office, everyone carries lunch, my boss included. A start up encourages frugality.
Secondly, you have examples of prudent financial management all around you. Most start up entrepreneurs are very frugal, you get to learn from the best.Finally, the fact that I was willing to take a risk with this company when it was younger means I enjoy more rewards today, financial and otherwise.
Would I work here for 10 more years? Definitely! Research has shown that the best company CEOs are often “lifers” – people who have worked in the organisation for most of their career.
5.Values And Mission: Working for a start up is great if you are self motivated and a values and passion driven individual. I find it very hard to be passionate about my job, if I’m not passionate about the company I’m working for. Passion is the fuel that drives a start up. In addition to this, it’s easy to buy into the vision of a start up, compared to a multinational such as Coca Cola, where the agenda is set in a distant head office, and all you do is implement. In a start up, even if you’re the cleaner, you’re an important part of the company, while in a multinational, unless you’re in management, you’re a small cog of a very big wheel.
Everyone likes to feel needed
Not everybody is suited to work in a start up, there are unique attributes of the ideal start up employee, and we will look at that in the next post on this series. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences in the job market, please share in the comments section below. Have you worked for a start up, and do you agree or disagree with the 5 benefits I outlined?