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Over the course of my career I’ve spent most of my time working at smaller companies (less than 20 employees). I recently joined Safari, so the 150+ employees that work here is my first taste of a “larger company.” I realize to some that’s still a small company, but there’s no shortage of new experiences and things I’ve had to learn.

I’ve seen numerous posts on what it’s like to transition from a larger enterprise to a startup, but I haven’t read anything on the opposite experience. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and the rest of this post summarizes my learnings.

Remembering names

To kick things off with a bit of humor, remembering names might be my biggest challenge so far. I’m terrible at this, so I find myself talking with coworkers and feeling bad that I have no clue who I just spoke with.

To my chagrin, everyone remembers my name. It helps to have Hipchat list names of coworkers, but remembering everyone is something that will take time.

Startup flexibility vs. BigCo entrenchment

If you work at a smaller company, they will tout the fact that they are more flexible than a large enterprise. This is generally true, yet doesn’t mean that larger companies can’t move quickly. I’ve been very surprised at how quickly Safari is moving.

In Clay Christensen’s book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” one of the biggest challenges that companies face is when to invest in new technologies/markets. Typically disruptive innovation sneaks up on larger enterprises, and overtakes the old way of doing business very quickly (destroying the BigCo in the process).

This book serves as a cautionary tale, but my point is that many larger companies are fully aware of the need to constantly reinvent themselves. Safari is one of them.

As a result, large companies have smaller products/initiatives they are working on. This is essentially a startup inside a larger company, and there’s plenty of opportunities to move quickly, make an impact, and grow the business in a big way.

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Photo courtesy of Philippe Lewicki via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Balancing processes

I’m a big believer in the power of effective processes. There’s value in establishing a set way of doing things (larger companies) vs. unstructured tasks (typically work at a startup). Clearly this can be a double-edge sword. My role (marketing/growth) requires that I move at a fast pace, yet at the same time I must be cognizant of how to document issues in programs like JIRA and follow normal development sprints (still working on this). The key here is to balance normal processes, while still moving quickly.

Who should I talk to about ________ ?

At an early-stage startup, it’s normal to be the sole person responsible for a particular function. In a larger company, more teamwork is required. As a result, it can take time to understand the people who can help you accomplish particular tasks. If I had any advice on navigating through this process, it’s to ask questions. Get a copy of the company org chart or segment chat rooms related to particular projects.

The “make a difference” myth

Many people join startups because they want to make a difference. That’s a fantastic goal, but you can make a difference at a larger company, too. In fact, I daresay you could make a bigger impact at a larger company.

For example, Safari is participating in the ConnectED initiative, and providing $100 million dollars worth of technology resources to K-12 students.

How many startups have the resources to provide this? Not many.

I’m really excited about this, as I was in high school and would have loved to have access to the Safari library of books/videos. I’m thrilled to help the vocational center that I used to go to receive access to these resources, and they will be early “beta testers.”

Employment “risk”

Startups are not all fun and games. You might have your job one day and lose it the next. If you’re comfortable with ambiguity, a startup might be right for you. If not, I highly recommend working at a well-established organization. I tend to be risk averse, so there’s definitely a sense of comfort around knowing that the company you work for is profitable and growing.

Dynamics of a larger organization

If you work in a startup, and plan to sell your product/service to the enterprise, it’s probably a good idea to understand the dynamics of how a larger organization works. Who holds the credit card and needs convincing? Who’s in charge of a specific function, and what’s their decision-making process look like?

It’s for that reason that I recommend working at larger organization. There’s no better way to learn than by full immersion.

Wrapping things up

If you learned anything from this post, I hope it’s that you shouldn’t trust stereotypes of what it’s like to work at a startup or large organization.  Be open-minded and do your research.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you have any comments or thoughts, let me know on Twitter, or just comment below.

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