Startup vs. Corporate: Does size matter?

We lay out the pros and cons to this age-old question.

When it comes to the size of the company you work for, is bigger always best, or is it better to work for a smaller organization? There is no definitive answer to this question, and companies of all sizes have their advantages and disadvantages. Here we look at some of the factors that come into play as companies increase or decrease in size.

As company size increases: 

1. More stability and less volatility 

By their very nature, corporations are more stable and less volatile than startups. These large companies have grown, matured, and established revenue streams that are steady and solid. If you work in a corporation, you can feel more assured that your job is secure, and the company will still be around in a year. In a startup, this is often not the case. Early-stage startups are still very much trying to figure out their business model and what kind of product they want to sell. The turnover of staff in a startup is higher than in a corporate, and the impacts are felt more keenly. If the leadership of a startup changes, often the effects ripple through the whole team due to the flatter hierarchies and the higher relevance of interpersonal relationships.

2. More structure in your role

As companies increase in size, positions become much more rigidly defined and structured. If you join a corporate job, you can be sure what your role will entail, and your responsibilities will be distinct. This is in stark contrast to the structure in a startup where your role can change from day to day, and tasks are incredibly fluid.

3. Internal mobility changes

In a startup, you can usually switch jobs and departments relatively easily. A flat hierarchy and a tight-knit team mean you can approach an internal change without much difficulty. As an organization grows in size, changes like this become harder, take more time, and planning and requiring approval. The upshot is that many bigger corporates offer a lot of training programs and opportunities to change roles. If a company has offices in different countries, then you might even be able to change your location as well. 

4. Increased training opportunities

Acquiring new skills inside a startup tends to happen through execution and learning on the job. There is often very little formal training available, and you frequently need to work things out by yourself. This is in stark contrast to larger companies, which usually offer many opportunities and resources through training and development programs. Corporations are frequently willing to invest in the professional and personal development of their team members in a way that is beyond the reach of early-stage startups.

As company size decreases:

1. More ownership and responsibility

Startups tend to have small team sizes, which means that each team member often has a large amount of responsibility. You’re often working on projects by yourself, are solely accountable for the outcome, and are the owner of that project. This can be a very empowering experience and helps to make you feel emotionally invested in a project, something that does not happen to the same extent when working in a corporate job.

2. Faster personal progression

In a startup job, you have endless opportunities to learn new skills and to develop. The pace is always very fast, and the tasks are ever-changing. When you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into new challenges, you will progress much quicker than you could in a larger corporation. If you have the right attitude and level of commitment, then your personal growth will go through the roof.

3. Greater individual impact

The smaller a company is, the higher your overall impact can be. When you’re part of a large corporation, the scope of your role will already be defined, and there will be a clear expectation of what you can achieve. This is in contrast to a startup where you’ll be introducing and implementing new processes yourself and be able to see and experience the impact of your contributions. 

4. Early adoption of new tools, trends, and technology

Smaller, more agile companies have a distinct advantage over large corporations when it comes to the adoption of new technology. If a new project management tool is introduced, a startup can push this out across their whole team with ease, whereas introducing new technology to a big company is often impossible on account of their scale. Startups also have the ability to react to industry trends and to pivot more quickly than bigger companies.

Marco Eylert
Co-Founder | TalentSpace

Marco's a co-founder at TalentSpace, and he previously worked at McKinsey & Company, Roland Berger and Credit Suisse. He graduated from Bocconi University and Johns Hopkins SAIS, where he was a scholar of the Haniel Foundation and the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.

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