In my career, I have worked for a multinational conglomerate, the UK Parliament and, most recently, a 12 member tech startup.
All of these experiences have been vastly different, each giving me a unique perspective on how organisations function and what it means to be a worker within them.
Here is how I've found my first few months and what it's really like behind the startup curtains.
The first major difference between working for a startup and a more established company is the emphasis placed on formalised working. By this, I mean, working at the same desk, five days a week, within a prescribed time frame. Obviously this has changed a lot for us all over the past two years, but I was still shocked at the level of flexibility within startups. Gone are the days of presenteeism, or putting your life on the back burner while you fight for your next promotion.
Now, startups are focussing on performance over presenteeism, enabling employees to create highly innovative work by working with, not against, their personal lives. So, if you need to pick your kids up from school, go to a doctor's appointment or even live abroad for a couple of months, this is all facilitated, providing your quality of work doesn’t suffer.
Like in any relationship, working in a startup comes with both give and take. You are no longer a cog in a machine, or an employee number, but a person, who can create actionable, visible results. Your name is on every piece of work, and each one is integral to the success of the brand. However, that does mean that there are no layers of bureaucracy to hide between. If you make a mistake, or slack on a piece of work, it's up to you to correct that.
Working in a startup puts you at the coalface of a product, and it's a responsibility that no one should take lightly. You have the opportunity to radically alter the performance of a brand - however, this is equally as exciting as it is terrifying. For increased responsibility (and likely, workload), you are granted the right to become a fully rounded, functional human first. You are granted trust.
For me, the benefits, both professionally and personally, are immeasurable.
In fact, I came into a department that didn’t exist before me, and was only me for my first few months. There was no one to look up to or follow in their footsteps - no guidelines or blueprint. Simply a blank canvas from which I was to create a marketing strategy.
What is hierarchy and experience in one company is replaced by a flat structure and an eagerness to learn in a startup. Initiative is at a premium because, more often than not, there is no standardised training programme, or ‘right way’ of doing things. To succeed, you must be willing to teach yourself new skills without ever being asked and take full responsibility for the success of that learning.
However, you also get the opportunity to work within a highly skilled team. One in which each person demonstrably adds value to the company and is willing to mentor and support those around them however they can. What a startup lacks in traditional hierarchy, it makes up for in team spirit.
Startups are a breeding ground for learning; primarily because there are rarely enough people to do all of the work required. The old adage that you have to ‘wear many hats’ is never more true than in a startup. There will always be gaps in skill sets, and so, it is the responsibility of the team to learn these new skills to get the job done. The primary focus has to be on the success of the product, not on whether it's ‘your’ responsibility. For me, the opportunity to create something new and learn new skills without having to consult with another department was hugely attractive.
Having worked in a startup for almost two months, I can safely say that it's one of the best choices I've ever made. The flexibility, responsibility and ability to learn new skills is unparalleled. I am certain that I would not have learnt the amount I have in the past two months, in a year working for a larger corporation. That’s not to say that startup life is for everyone, but maybe some of us should give it a try.
Sign up to our bi-weekly newsletter get the latest sustainability highlights in your inbox or follow us on social media!