5 observations when moving from a corporate to a start-up

I’ve spent a lot of my career working in newly formed and start-up businesses, and I have a real passion for being part of something new & exciting. However, for the last 3 years, I headed back to the corporate world to prove to myself that the skills I used in start-ups were fully transferable to more established corporate businesses. Now that I’m moving back to the world of start-up, here’s 5 things I’ve learned.

1. Budgets exist in new & established businesses: In a start-up, you feel the freedom to create and the weight of the world on your shoulders at the same time. Ensuring that your product is market-ready (minimum viable product) as soon as possible, and the urgency to monetise your product creates a real sense of purpose. In a corporate, with healthy revenue streams, budget is allocated to a new project, and tracked closely to ensure the bold ambitions are delivered on. In reality, budgets matter wherever you work. Whether seed funding and private equity backers in a start-up, or shareholders in a corporate, you face the same responsibilities on spending and focus on reaching profitability, wherever you choose to work. Take time to choose the business that can demonstrate their funding as well as their product.

2. The start-up creative vibe is hard to replicate: I’ve worked in some seriously cool offices in my time. I used to love how, during the dot com boom, companies would try to outdo each other in being cool – real lawn and swings in reception, beer trolley on a Friday, offices full of dogs, manicures at your desk – I’ve seen plenty of cool stuff at work. It creates a non-typical work atmosphere and thus, encourages disruptive thinking and creative output. Compared to corporate offices, with clear desk policies, little signs of personality and at times, a hushed environment akin to a library, start-ups clearly have the edge on providing a work space to nurture new thinking. It’s not that the corporate demands such behaviour, there is no rules or edicts to be bland and a personality fee zone! So we should be encouraging people to bring something of themselves to their work space, wherever they work!

3. The modern corporate is a lot more inclusive than you think: I was really rather nervous about re-joining the corporate world, and had quite a deep-set misconception that I’d be forced into a suit and tie, and have my beard whipped off to smarten me up. Not true. I’m sat in the office in my red jeans and loud shirt, beard as bushy as ever, and no-one raised an eyebrow. There’s a lot more respect for the individual than a decade ago. As Co-Chair for the LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bi-sexual and their Allies) Group, I felt proud of the progress made by corporates to embrace diversity and inclusion. Addressing issues such as sexism, gender pay gap, racism, homophobia and disability discrimination is high on the modern corporate agenda, reflecting their employee and customer / client views. Both corporates and start-up understand their role in creating a better workplace, so if this matters, dig deeper than their website before you join!

4. Rates of change vary by size of company: Another misplaced assumption I held was about the rate of change that I should expect. The impression that every self-respecting start-up wants to create is of running at a thousand miles an hour. Corporates have an image of moving slowly, creaking with age as they respond to change. In reality, I have worked in start-ups that have stagnated after hitting a brick wall, and have not moved forward very quickly. Some corporates have functions that are truly innovating, and making many changes and enhancements every day. It would seem that the rate of change, and the pace of work is very much dependent not on the size of the company, but on the leadership team who drive a function. So size of business does not necessarily relate to the speed of change after all!

5. It’s all about the passion of the people: Finally, when I think about the many amazing and inspiring people that I’ve worked with over the years, it would be very easy to assume that the best creators and innovators reside in the start-up camp. There’s no disputing that by their nature, start-ups attract entrepreneurs and people who think differently. Why else would so many of the most successful start-ups end up being purchased by corporates? But too much of a good thing can be bad for any business – start-up can get tied up in the same knots that face corporates – politics, competing agendas, weak leadership or too much investor interference. Instead, focus on the passion of the people – for those who know me, it’s such a personal motivator.

When people love what they do and respect each other, whether big or small, it’s a great place to work and more likely to succeed! So know what YOU want before you focus on what sort of business to work for.

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