Should You Work at a Big Company or a Startup? The Great Tie Vs. T-Shirt Debate

Is a job just a job?

To answer that age-old question, no way. There are many differences between working at a startup or expansion-stage company and a large corporation. Neither option is inherently better than the other, however. The question is – which is better for you?

Choosing Your Ideal Work Environment: Should You Work at a Startup or Big Corporation?

Everyone has a different idea of where and how they want to spend their 40+ hours a week. This article on The Daily Muse has some great advice regarding how to choose what’s best for you. While it offers some great recommendations, it’s also important to consider the key differences between small and large companies that can make them very different opportunities.

As a recruiter for our expansion-stage portfolio, I speak with many corporate people about opportunities at growing software companies. Their reactions are usually completely polarized — they’re either very excited or very concerned. Here’s why:


Some people have been burned by startups in the past. Others have heard horror stories. Either way, many are concerned about transitioning from the corporate world to a smaller company. They’re worried that they won’t have enough revenue to pay for their salary or will have to make deep budget cuts.

While these are valid concerns, the expansion-stage companies in OpenView’s portfolio are typically past questions of stability. Focusing on opportunities at companies that have grown past the earliest stages in their development can help go a long way in reducing your risk. At the same time, risk at earlier-stage startups is also typically compensated for in the form of equity and other incentives (see below). It’s a trade-off, and you have to decide where on the risk-averse spectrum you fall.


Employees are compensated very differently at a startup vs. a large corporation:

  • Cash Compensation: Salaries are typically higher in a large corporation because they have more cash on hand for payroll and bonuses.
  • Stock/Equity: This is where the smaller companies tend to make up for cash compensation. While you may get a larger number of shares in a larger company, there are a lot more out there to dilute it. In a startup, getting equity/options could lead to a large payout down the road.
  • Benefits: Health and Dental are fairly similar. I know both large companies and small startups that cover one hundred percent, but there are also plenty that don’t.
  • Work-Life Balance: Another point for the startup world! Smaller companies tend to be much more flexible with hours and vacation than larger corporations. Employees are granted autonomy and are trusted to get things done. People can leave early for appointments or take a two week spa trip.

Again, it comes down to how you want to be compensated and what is important to you. Are you willing to wait for a huge potential payout or do you want a big guaranteed paycheck now? Is work/life balance more important than cash compensation?

Company Culture

The big buzzword for startups today is culture, but I’m not referring to their “work hard/play hard mentality” or happy hours on Wednesdays. I’m referring to the roles that people play.

Roles in large companies tend to be more segmented than positions at a smaller business. If you are a developer on a product for a large corporation, your day is dedicated to developing that product. In a smaller company, you could be pulled into another product, become an interviewer, or be writing a blog post. If you don’t like the idea of wearing a lot of hats, going corporate may be for you. However, the great thing about the startup culture is that all of the employees are working together to grow the company, and will do whatever it takes to get there.

What is Right for You?

No matter what opportunity is right for you, remember that a job is not just a job. If you can, try to experience both small and large businesses so you can decide which environment you thrive in.

What do you think the biggest pros and cons of working at small/ large business are? Let us know in the comments section below!

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering
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