In the modern business world, people are no longer limited to the traditional nine to five job. Instead, they are seeking out freelance opportunities, consulting work, or starting businesses of their own. These alternative career paths offer several benefits that corporate companies may struggle to match, some of which were covered in this comparison between entrepreneurs and small businesses. But at the end of the day, is it worth it?
Today we will weigh the pros and cons of both the startup route and the corporate route, so you can decide which one best suits your personality and career goals.
The benefits of working at a startup
A unique learning opportunity – Startups can teach more about how to run a business than even some professional institutes ever could. Since capital and labor are both limited, individuals in a startup are forced to find unique ways to run a business, often working multiple roles of business owner, accountant, marketer, financial analyst, and more.
Creative culture and energy – While corporate environments are sometimes tied down by their adherence to policy, startups are more free and democratic in how their offices are designed and how work is completed. That’s why many startups have more vibrant offices, allow casual clothing, and operate with less rigid protocols. Startup accelerators, like Novel Coworking client ELEV8, can also provide a community of support along with the proper resources to bring a startup to the next level.
Opportunities to innovate – Corporate businesses strive to maintain a certain status quo, while startups typically aim to deliver a good or service in a totally new or exciting way. The offering itself may not be groundbreaking, but the brand may present it in a new context: for example, MoveWith offers fitness classes, but presents them as audio lessons through a mobile app.
The disadvantages of a startup
Greater risk – Startups can be major gambles, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll succeed, or even turn a profit after a few years. Whether it’s the lack of startup experience, poor management, or just plain bad luck, about 50% of all new startups are expected to fail within just five years. Unless you have a profit-proven product or have a few years of experience under your belt, be very careful about which startups you invest your time in.
Lack of structure and organization – With less experience and a smaller team, startups aren’t set up like corporations, so there’s typically no hierarchy, documented processes, or established partnerships. For those who need a formal process to their role, a startup may seem frustrating and chaotic.
Less work-life balance – If you’re running a startup expecting to have more time on your hands, think again. Startup workers, especially the founder, will need to work weekends and late evenings just to have the same efficiency as a much larger corporation. Startups may not be ideal if you’re also starting a family or going to school (although it is not completely unheard of).
The benefits of working for an established corporation
Greater stability – Corporations can offer a more reliable stream of work and compensation than most new startups could. Since most corporations have existed for more than a few years, they’re less likely to fold in the near future. For someone who wants to ensure a steady stream of income for the foreseeable future, a corporate job is the way to go.
Potentially larger salary and more benefits – With more resources at their disposal, corporations are in a position to offer better benefits (401k match, healthcare, discounts) and salaries to their workers. If you’ve been working with a company for several years, you have more of a chance of climbing the professional ladder and increasing your income, whereas such an opportunity may be difficult to find at a startup.
Brand recognition – Corporations have the added advantage of having an established reputation. Working at a major corporation like Ford or Apple doesn’t just give you bragging rights, but it looks great on a professional resume and opens up further connections and opportunities. Many startups, on the other hand, struggle just to achieve the most basic public awareness.
The disadvantages of working for an established corporation
Strict or rigid processes – Corporations have far more laws, rules, and codes of conduct that govern how each of their divisions is intended to operate. While this can increase efficiency and reduce risks, it can also stifle creative or modern approaches to problems, especially if they are deemed too risky or at odds with the company’s history. For instance, many corporations may be resistant to adopt new technology (such as social media use) because of a lack of understanding or precedent.
Mundane or repetitive tasks – Work in a corporation can turn into a repetitive routine, which for some may become monotonous over time. While startups force team members to work multiple roles, corporations expect you to focus on one role, task or project. This can be a plus if you are the type to work best when specializing, but can be a major disadvantage if you prefer variety in work.
Formality over informality – Startups tend to have a much less formal environment compared to corporations. Many corporations expect you to wear formal clothing, or enforce more formal interactions between coworkers. Compared to a startup, corporations may sometimes appear to lack more direct or authentic communication.
How to choose between startup vs. corporate
There is no one answer when choosing between a startup or corporate. Just as all people are different, all brands and companies are different, and what may be true for many corporations isn’t universally true. In fact, more corporations are adopting startup practices (like agile management) while startups are adopting corporate practices (with greater benefit packages).
Instead, think about the type of person you are and where you want to work. If you’re an entrepreneurial spirit with an idea you just want to see in the world, a startup may be your calling. If you’re looking for more stability and work-life balance, then a corporate position may be better for you.
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