On Big Companies Claiming To Be A Startup

I have hard people in big technology companies pitch their workplace as being “like a startup”. To me this always seemed like a strange pitch, your big company likely cannot offer the most positive aspects of a startup environment. It might have some of the negative ones, though, which is not a great selling point.

Working in a startup has its upsides. From the stories that I could gather, people typically value most the comradery, the feeling of being in one boat on a mission that is so bold and risky that at the very least you will get a good story out of it in the end.

I would argue that the very essence that distinguishes a startup from other enterprises is right there: Risk. There is a very slim chance that a startup survives and turns out to be successful and I would argue that this shared understanding fuels all of the upsides as well as all of the downsides of such a work environment.

Downsides you say? Well, the high likelihood of failure and the unstable nature of a startup likely also means that you will work longer hours than elsewhere. This may strengthen the sense of comradery, though I would argue that you could also have spent these same hours volunteering for your favorite charity with a similar effect. Long hours as such are maybe not so bad if you are compensated accordingly, however, startups are also notoriously short on cash meaning that your salary may very well be below market rate. Lastly, from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen, startups are typically young environments with many people doing things for the first time. This lack of experience can be a positive thing when it comes to breaking old rusty habits, but it also means that mistakes will be made and a lot of back and forth (as well as up and down) can be expected.

On the upside, startups typically know that their value proposition to employees does not add up and make ownership of a small part of the company part of the deal. This again goes back to the shared sense of risk-taking: I am betting a portion of my salary on the success of the undertaking.

Now, when you say your big company works like a startup, what do you mean exactly? That you are short on cash and pay a sub-market rate salary? If so, well, do you hand out company ownership as part of the package to compensate? Or do you mean that your team is working above-average hours? If I am a shareholder of the company, at least I spend my time on something I partially own. Or do you mean there is a general lack of experience and stability in your teams?

Once, someone that I asked about this responded that they wanted to point out the ambition and innovativeness of their teams. I’ve seen plenty of ambition and plenty of innovation from both people working in startup environments and people working in more established environments so I’m not sure if this is the best analogy to use to underline these aspects of your work culture.

One thought on “On Big Companies Claiming To Be A Startup

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  1. I’d say that the positive side of “working like a startup” should be quick feedback, low bureaucracy, direct contact with clients, possibly high impact on current project (because it is still moving quickly) and newish tech stacks, not only an hypothetical comradery.

    Basically, having agency in your work, and potential impact.

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