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What to expect when joining a startup from the corporate world

Published on 6th February 2019

Startups are the leaders of the cutting edge and many from the corporate world will consider them an essential career step. So what should you expect?

The world-changing impact of successful startups like Facebook, Google or Uber has resulted in a huge reputation shift. No longer are startups popularly considered risk riddled and likely to fail. Instead, they are exciting, dynamic places to work that look highly impressive on any professional CV.

From the outside, trading in a corporate job for a role in a startup may look like the right option for your career path. Certainly, startup positions present you with a wealth of opportunities you're unlikely to come across in a big company. But it's important to remember that it's not all table football, free lunches and electric scooters.

So what should you expect when moving into the startup world? Let us take you through some of the key differences to be aware of and how to make sure it's the right step for you.

Key differences between startups and the corporate world

1. Salary and benefits

One of the things that people often find so refreshing about startup life is that there tends to be a very flat hierarchy. However, this can at times mean there is no defined progression and as a result no clear opportunity for set salaries and raises.

With the few notable exceptions, most startups have little funding and revenue depends on immediate sales and performance. If you're walking into a startup without a well-established client group this often means that salaries are smaller and ultimately reliant on how business is going. Similarly, benefits may be few to non-existent without the reliable income that big corporates can use for employee care.

In some cases this reduction in salary will be balanced out by offers of a share in equity. For incredibly successful startups this can lead to huge payouts in the long term. But the sobering fact is that three out of four startups fail, according to the Wall Street Journal so you must be comfortable with taking on a significant amount of risk.

Coming out of an established corporate, the lower pay combined with greater risk offered by startups can be a mixture of terrifying and exciting. Either way it is important to know exactly how your numbers will add up and whether you can still make ends meet.

2. Work life balance

In the age of never off technology, employees across the board are finding it harder to truly switch off from work. But where many corporates try to establish firm lines between work and home, startups simply cannot afford that luxury.

In a high-risk business environment where every decision is crucial to survival, many startups require their staff to be ready to respond to demands whatever the time or day. The very positive side of this is that startups are filled with people who are genuinely passionate about a product or service idea. They are willing to put everything into it being a success. This sort of drive and dedication is immensely exciting but will tend to creep into many aspects of your life.

3. Wearing many hats

In large corporations with a hundred or more staff no one member has a huge impact on the outcomes of the whole organisation. As a result, roles are clearly defined and teams often given siloed focuses. The same is not true for startups, where fewer than three people can be responsible for keeping the whole organisation going.

As a result, expect to wear many hats at a startup. This could be as varied as COO, finance manager, head of hiring, general secretary and even on occasion cleaner. Every day will present new challenges and new tasks that just need to get done. Many people see this as one of the best parts of being in a startup environment as it means that you can cultivate and execute many skill sets that may have been siloed in larger corporations. Expect to learn new skills quickly and have a crack at them long before you are comfortable you have mastered them.

4. Culture is what you make it

A big shock for those moving from large businesses is the lack of existing culture within startups. Big corporations provide employees, rightly or wrongly, with an established set of norms and behaviour expectations which staff by in large must adapt to. In the much closer knit startup environment, the culture is created by this small group. As you make up a large chunk of that small knit group this means you are a key player in developing that culture.

This can be quite disorientating for those used to a solid structure, but ultimately it can allow for a lot more freedom and gets the best out of the specific people in your business.

How to make sure it's the right step for you

There are many fantastic aspects of working for a startup, but it's not an environment that suits everybody, or indeed every stage in your life. Working out whether the move is right for you is essential before taking the leap.

  • Ask tough questions at interview: If you have found a company you are interested in, take your interview as an opportunity to really get to grips with what the company is doing and where it's going. This means working out things as blunt as: is the product or service itself a good idea? How is the business being funded? Is the leadership up to the task of making it a success?
  • Research: This should always be the case when searching for a new job, but with a startup in mind it is even more crucial. Check out the company you are considering, what their clients say about them and, if there are any, what former employees say. Also thoroughly research the current marketplace to get an understanding of whether the product you are about to dedicate yourself to will succeed.
  • Get an expert's opinion: Lastly with a decision as big as this, it's always best to get the opinion of someone who knows what they are talking about. This could be peers and mentors or a recruitment specialist who truly understands the market you are thinking of entering and can help you to navigate the best career steps for you.

If you are thinking about making the leap into the startup world, get in touch with our recruitment specialists at Ambition.