I find it interesting how people like to leave large, established companies for startups. It used to not make sense to me at all, back in the early 2000s when just having a job in this industry was gift. These days, it looks like if you're good enough, you can work for a company of basically any size/complexity. Assuming it's run in a way you're happy with, of course.

I've worked for a teeny weeny company on the breadline, as well as medium-sized companies that grew into large ones. I've worked for a large established megacorp (for an internship, anyway). Some suit, some don't. It depends on the person, where their career is at, where real-life is at (i.e. working in a swallow-your-life startup when you're thinking about having kids might not be the best of ideas, etc).

I'm going to give my impression of various sizes of company, and what I personally thought of them. Opinions may be incongruent, because I recently discovered that I've been doing this crack for 10 years now. That's a large number to be able to plug into recruitment websites, innit? (although apparently in my current position, I've outgrown the lowly recruitment website in favour of handing a couple hundred quid over to an executive placement agency so they can shove wine, cheese and my CV under people's noses).

Small Companies

Small tiny companies (in my experience, your mileage may vary) suffer from a lot of problems that are endemic to small companies that have an OMG EXCITING PRODUCT. These include the most egregious and common examples I've spotted, like...

"Company Focus"

A lot of small companies are far too focussed. You spend all your time doing one thing, working on one goal. On one hand, that's good for building a team, but it's at the expense of the individual. In the startup I worked for, people were making sacrifices for the good of the company. Fuck that. You work in exchange for the experience of it, the skills you might learn, and also money. There are enough startups out there that if it starts taking food off your table because they make it feel like you owe them, then leave. The people who have the personality to run a startup have the personality to sell anything to anyone, including the people who work for them. When I handed in my notice at that job, the CEO called me a traitor. Nice.

The Cult of Personality

This follows over into medium-sized companies (in fact, it often applies to employees of small companies that exist long enough to grow organically).
The basic premise is that if a company is small enough, one person can wreck it. This can take a number of forms -- The Unquestionable Engineering Curmudgeon, the VPs Mate, the dude who takes credit for other people's work. You'd thnk that with fewer employees, they'd be under more scrutiny. The opposite is the case, actually. With fewer employees comes the perception that you can't let people go because you can't do without them. Again, Fuck That. It only takes one person to make a startup a shitty place to work, and it's really, really hard to get rid of them. It's especially hard if the company grows and they become a permanent fixture.

The Bottom Line

Startups run close to the wire, a lot of the time (I'm discounting startups that have no revenue stream on the horizon apart from VC funding, because seriously get out now), and all too often, in the interests of "honesty" and "openness" every employee from the CFO to the receptionist is hearing the gory details of the company's (usually shitty) finances. Fuck That. Go make money, and make sure the company can grow, and make sure the people who need to stay informed stay informed. All you're doing when you tell people you're hoping to hear from your VC that the wire transfer for this month's salaries is coming any day now is worrying people. These people should be worried about the next thing on their product roadmap, or how they can do their jobs properly. If you're worried about who's getting paid this month, then maybe you grew too fast or run a shitty business.

There have been books written on this subject of course, but this is my own experience. Small companies are okay, but they kickstart a career, rather than building one (here's a litmus test : If you work for a small company, go ask your boss what your 5-year career plan is).

I guess this may become a series of posts (since this one was sitting here so long I felt bad about having Yet Another Abandoned Blog).


  1. "With fewer employees comes the perception that you can't let people go because you can't do without them. Again, Fuck That. It only takes one person to make a startup a shitty place to work, and it's really, really hard to get rid of them."

    On this topic, I recommend reading http://www.amazon.co.uk/Asshole-Rule-Civilised-Workplace-Surviving/dp/1847440002

  2. Yep, the No Asshole Rule is really just reinforcing what people who've worked for a non-zero number of companies knows already (most people just underestimate the effect of That One Guy).