If you’ve been on the job hunt sometime in the last ten or twenty years, the lure of working for a big, established company can be tough to pull away from. Big companies can give you extraordinary salaries along with a high level of job security, and they’ve typically streamlined their process for bringing in new employees. If you go that route, you can feel pretty safe in thinking that you’ll get the training and the experience you need to move forward in the industry and do the work you want to do.
Big companies aren’t just safe — they’re also often boring. They’re usually compartmentalized to the point that you will never be asked to do anything outside the wheelhouse of your experience. Training isn’t the only thing that’s optimized, as your options for growth within a company are usually along a set track. You know early on how long you can expect to be working before you get promoted, or what your options for promotion are, and you aren’t usually given a lot of space to deviate.
But there’s an alternative to the tedium of big businesses with their corporate sameness: startups.
Often found in the field of developing technology, startup companies are venture built around a new innovation of some kind, be that a service or product. Startups themselves are usually smaller, newer, and overall less certain and developed than a big company would be.
This lack of certainty can be a source of anxiety to a lot of people. Three out of four startups fail — that means any promises of job security at any given startup aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Resources are often scarce, with the best companies trying their best to stretch out their funding as much as possible to get a viable product going, in the hopes of either becoming self-sustaining or even just acquiring more funding.
But for many people, the benefits and opportunities provided by a startup far outweigh any of the potential risks, to the point that many enjoy working for startups over big companies long into their careers.
What are some of those benefits? We’re glad you asked.
Startups give you the chance to do work you’ve never done before, that you would never have had the opportunity to try if you worked in your field for any other kind of company. Part of the reason for this is resources — namely, the fact that startups don’t really have any.
A lot of things need to happen to keep a business afloat, but a startup can only have so many employees. That’s why at a startup you’ll often find graphic artists who also know how to code Python, or content writers who also make sales, or coders maintaining the company’s social media accounts. When something needs to happen at a startup, the one who does it is sometimes just the first person to roll up their sleeves and dig in.
While this can sometimes lead to people who are totally inexperienced working in a position that they are wholly unequipped for, it can also lead to someone finding where their real talent lies. Even if you don’t end up sticking with the role you’re trying out, you’ll still end up learning a lot from it, and the flexibility to take on those kinds of new responsibilities is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find at a different sort of company.
Startups can eventually balloon in size if they’re successful, but they always start from humble beginnings. Working at a small company like this means that your contributions aren’t just important, they’re extremely visible. If you send an email and get your company into a Forbes article, you can see in real time the way that the company’s website starts getting more traffic. And making a big sale at a new company always has the chance of making you the first person to help your company start breaking even.
The visibility of your work can make it easier for you to prove to a company how essential you are to them, giving you a leg up when it comes to negotiating raises or receiving bonuses. And many companies make it a habit to give their employees a cut of sales in order to incentivize them to work longer and harder.
This kind of noticeable impact combined with the opportunity to try new roles means that you have a ton of room at a startup to move up in the world.
Working in sales? Learn enough and be successful enough, and you might find yourself leading a whole sales team within a year. Scaling up happens fast in a small company that’s experiencing success, and a rising tide lifts all boats.
By the time you’re done with your first year at a startup, you’ll have a lot of job experiences to pull from on their own, but you might also find you have a number of impressive job titles you can trot out at a moment’s notice to show just how broad your experience was.
This kind of opportunity is made possible by a lack of traditional bureaucratic structure. This absence can lead to some unfortunate side effects — it’s not always clear what tasks fall under someone’s job description, and there’s no obvious path for you to progress through a given company.
But that same lack of a set path means that you can decide that path yourself. Most startups will pay you handsomely if you decide to start taking on additional responsibilities — the higher-ups don’t always know what’s going to be the big thing that finally puts their company on the map, and any value you can add to the company is worth something to them in return.
For those with a talent for negotiation, this can lead to some enormous benefits, including everything from increasing salaries to time spent working from home.
Additionally, startups are born out of the culture of Silicon Valley. That means that they’re going to naturally be a lot less stodgy or set in their ways than a larger or older company would be. Startups are willing to experiment with how they treat their employees in order to improve those employees’ productivity — that means office snacks, big parties, new office technologies, health facilities, flexible work schedules, or even unlimited sick or vacation days.
Those kinds of benefits can be tough to keep handing out once a company is larger and has more employees to manage, but for those on the ground floor in the early days, it can lead to a lot of great experiences and a feeling of genuine fondness for the company itself.
Of course, one of the largest benefits to working for a startup is the team you’ll be working with.
Because of their willingness to take a chance on younger, intelligent candidates, you’ll find yourself working with a lot of young talent. Couple that with a lack of resources and big responsibilities condensed into a small location, and you’ll find a lot of chances to bond with your fellow employees.
Bolstering this sense of camaraderie is the excellent corporate culture you’re bound to experience at a startup. The lack of structure means that you’ll have direct contact with most of your superiors, and startups tend to spend a lot of time trying to keep up employee morale.
For those looking for a more progressive atmosphere than larger companies (which are typically more conservative), startups are definitely the place. Liberal or socially conscious attitudes are a much more common sight in startups than in a bigger business, if only because startups tend to have a younger demographic working for them. You might even find your CEO is in their early twenties.
All in all, while it’s your paycheck that will keep you coming back day in and day out, it’s the people we work with that make our work lives enjoyable, and you won’t find any better people than you will while working for a startup.