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How Does Working for a Startup Compare to Working at a More Established Company?

By Emily Smith on Wed, Nov 2, 2016

When I joined Cobloom in 2015, I became the fourth member of the team – and the first member of the team who wasn’t a co-founder. Between graduating university and joining Cobloom, I’d had 2 jobs in 4 years: first at a small but long-established company with <10 employees; and second at a much larger company with 250+ employees.

Having worked at established companies large and small, today I’m sharing the three biggest differences I've noticed working at a startup.

1) CAREER DEVELOPMENT

At an established company, you join in a specific role, as part of a specific team. This has its perks: you have a clear understanding of your place within the team, and a ready-mapped career path. For example, you could join a company as a Junior Designer, progress to Designer, then perhaps Head of Design, or similar. However, it also has its drawbacks: the longer you stay in that specific role, the more difficult it is to move around within the company and learn new skills.

In contrast, at a startup, your career path is much less clear – because the company can change so much (and so quickly) from one month to the next. If you move from an established company to a startup, this shift of mindset can take some getting used to. For example, within a couple of months of joining, we had rebranded (to Cobloom), changed direction and my job role had changed.

But the upside of all this transition is that you have a fantastic opportunity to learn and experiment. Instead of a pre-paved career path, at a startup you get opportunity: to work on lots of different things, learn where your strengths and passion lies, and shape your role to those strengths. Particularly if you’re an early employee at a startup, you can almost create your own path – if you want to.

2) PACE OF CHANGE

At an established company, change takes time. It seems like as companies grow, the complexity of the decision-making process grows with it.

As well as it taking a long time to make a decision (due to the ever-growing number of stakeholders who need to be involved), there are also several layers of administrative approvals that you need to go through, before you get buy-in on your proposed change, and can take action.

So it came as a shock when I joined Cobloom, and we made decisions quickly, efficiently and democratically: we could make a decision on a project one day, and put it into action the next.

This change of pace particularly hit home when, within a month of me joining, we were choosing a new name for the company, mocking-up logo designs and rebranding entirely with a new focus and direction.

3) TEAM RELATIONSHIPS

The biggest difference (and perhaps the one I least anticipated) between working at an established company compared with joining a small startup team was the team dynamic.

While every company is different, as a general rule you’ll find that startup teams are much more closely-knit – much more than same-size teams in more established companies.

In a small startup team, culture fit becomes just as important as your ability to do your job. Because in a small team, disagreements or differences of character and opinion are felt much more acutely, and can be the difference between success and failure.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Working at a startup like Cobloom is very different to working at an established company. While a lot of the practical skills are the same, it requires a complete change of  mindset. In addition to job-related skills and proficiencies, you’ll find that ‘soft skills’ become much more important, and more highly valued, due to the importance of maintaining a positive team dynamic. Some of your most valuable attributes will be:

  • Flexibility – to adapt to the fast-changing environment
  • Desire to learn – to try new things and new ideas
  • Culture fit – to fit in with the existing team, yet help it to grow and develop.

If you want to work at a startup, it’s important that you consider whether it’s really a good fit for your mindset and way of working, or whether a more traditional, established company would be a better fit for you.

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