Corporate Vs. Startup: How These 5 Major Differences Affect YOU

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Corporate’?

Do you imagine something like this?

What about ‘Startup’?

These stereotypes can shape the way we consider job opportunities, even though they don’t always hold true. For example, a corporate office can be exciting and innovative with employee autonomy and amazing benefits, while even a startup can have you stuck in a cubicle – or vice versa.

The facets of a company’s culture depend on the company itself, however there seem to be some universal differences between the two types of businesses. To clearly identify what they were and how they affected the employees of each kind of company, I decided to get first hand insight from those who would know best – my friends in the field.

At the time of this writing, Ally, a 23 year old entrepreneur and product manager, has been working at one of the largest tech corporations in the world for about 6 months. Also an entrepreneur, Kayla, a 24 year old channel manager has been with a midsize tech startup for about 7 months.

During my interviews with each of them, we were able to narrow down the five areas that presented the largest contrasts between a startup and a corporation. We then discussed how each affected their performance and overall job satisfaction on a day to day basis.

NOTE – The following include answers to questions that represent people’s personal opinions and are not necessarily indicative of the experiences at every corporation or startup.


Ally’s Corporation: > 450,000 employees

Kayla’s Startup: < 90 employees

Me: What’s the best and worst thing about the size of the company you work at?

Kayla: The best thing about the size of the startup is that I have direct access to all of the leadership. If I am having an issue that can only be ruled on by the CEO, I can shoot him an email and usually get a quick response. The small size also allows me to get a pulse on where the company itself is heading, so I can really know how I want to do my job to best be in line with the mission of the company.

The worst thing is that there aren’t enough people to fill all of the roles, so everyone wears multiple hats. This can mean that no one knows where to go to to get decisions made. I have repeatedly been the one to come down on a whole department (of 2 people) when they are not getting something done, even when their department is completely separate from mine. This puts me in an awkward position of having to act like my manager in dealing with an issue because he doesn’t have the time to do it himself.

Ally: The best thing about the size of my company (big!) is that there is always someone who has the answers or directions you need. In a company of this size, you’re bound to find expertise in multiple areas. The networking opportunities within the company are abundant as well and it helps to know people outside of your department if you want to push along a project or learn how to navigate your career within the company.

The worst thing about the size of the company is that there are many roadblocks to complete simple tasks. Oftentimes, you need approval from at least 3 different people and departments just to make a new product feature available to customers. This process usually takes weeks to months.


Me: How agile is your company in regards to the needs of the customers and employees?

Ally: It is difficult to remain agile as you learn more about the customer needs. If I’m lucky enough to get approval to access the customers and get feedback, it would take weeks or months to implement any changes. In fact, I’ll likely hear “Well, one or two customers needing this isn’t enough to justify the change.” I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to make more customer-centric decisions within this big company and to connect the sales and product management teams to do so (because, believe it or not, these teams rarely communicate with one another!).

Kayla: My company has made it a point to stay pretty agile. For example, my colleague recently brought a new program idea to the table, and three months later it’s being implemented as a major product offering. This ability to be flexible can lead to a rapid amount of innovation coming from all levels of the company, which encourages creativity on the part of the employees and a higher sense of ownership. On the flip-side, this agility can lead to a lack of focus on the main product offering. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really important to strike a healthy balance between agility and rigidity to best serve your customer and support your employees.


Me: How organized is your company in regards to employee procedures, training, and product releases and how does this affect your ability to do your job?

Kayla: The company itself is still pretty unorganized. Because we’re a startup, there are still some areas of the company that haven’t grown as fast as the company itself has, which has definitely presented it’s challenges. Products can be introduced suddenly, while procedures are still being developed. Everything changes pretty rapidly, which can mean that things like proper training and resources can fall through the cracks. A lot tends to be left up to trial and error on the part of the employees, which can result in a lot of wasted time just trying to figure things out. Sometimes it can feel like controlled chaos and can hinder actual productivity. However, the company is full of passionate people who are open to suggestions. So even though it can be very unorganized, it doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way.

Ally: So from what I gathered, the more sensitive the output, the more organized the procedure. For example, when we make changes to anything customer facing such as prices, it goes through a particular department and you must wait until all other prioritized requests are completed before yours even gets looked at. This amount of structure means that I can’t make quick changes and need to predict changes months in advance to meet the date I’d like the changes to be made on.

On the other hand, there are some procedures that have many options which helps make the process more agile, but oftentimes a bit confusing and usually requires going around the office and talking to the various people involved to understand the full process. The process for product releases is ever-changing  based on what’s working and what’s not, which is good. My department responds well to sudden prioritization of a product due to market need, but may still meet roadblocks in other departments if the goals are not perfectly aligned (and usually they’re not). Overall, it’s important to remain open to ambiguity and be ready with a backup plan if your initial one doesn’t go as you had hoped


Me: How does your salary compare to industry standard for your specific position?

Kayla: I would say I am paid slightly below industry standard. I think this is pretty normal for startups, as you are expected to buy into the mission of the company and reap more rewards once it’s successful. This can be frustrating at times, but if the company makes an effort to really incentivize its employees and keep them inspired, a higher pay is something you are motivated to work towards.

Ally:  The pay and benefits make a world of a difference. To go from ramen and mac & cheese every night in college while working on my startup, to a beautiful apartment, car shopping, and the ability to buy name brand products without worrying about the couple of dollar difference between that and the store brand – is amazing! I finally feel like I can stand on my own two feet and money has become less of a consistent concern. But, this is also concerning because to have a good, consistent salary and benefits is addicting (maybe that’s why they call it the golden handcuffs!). How does anyone tear away from this security to get involved in entrepreneurship again and risk losing it all? My hope is that the idea and motivation will be grand enough to unlock those golden handcuffs and start another venture someday soon.


Me: How much influence do you feel like you have over the product, the customer experience, and the overall culture of the company?

Ally: Although I’ve been given a great amount of responsibility right away in my new position, I still feel like another cog in the wheel. I have full responsibility over a technology, which is great, but this technology is part of a bigger offering, which is part of a bigger offering, etc. until it seems I do not have that big an influence. As an entrepreneur, the thought of this is a bit frustrating, however, I’m using this as an opportunity to see how companies operate at a granular level.

Kayla: I actually feel like I have quite a bit of influence in my company as the leadership does take their employees thoughts into consideration when making big decisions about our direction. Because the company is so small, I am able to bring ideas to the top and with persistence, can usually get them to pass. This could include changes to our product offering, new programs, support for the programs etc. It feels good to know that my voice means something in the grand scheme of things.

Though every work environment is different, there are definitely themes that can be seen across the spectrum when comparing a corporation vs a startup. Understanding how your environment will change your work experience can help you choose where your skill set will best fit. When you know a company’s size, ability to be agile, level of organization, pay and influence, you will be empowered to make an informed decision about where you want to work. 

And remember, if you try one and don’t find it to be the right fit, you can always try the other!

Originally published December 18th, 2017 on