Why I Left The Corporate World And Took A $15K Pay Cut To Work At A Startup
If you were to glance at my resumé, you would think that I’m the type of person that likes to hop around because I don’t know what I like. From my time at a Fortune 500 company in the defense and aircraft industry, to a stint at an engineering consulting company, my resumé spans the globe and various industries. And now, I am happily handling operations at a media and tech startup in Dubai. I’ve been working at a tech and media startup for nearly two years. I started out as a part-time employee while completing my master’s, and was offered a full-time position after I graduated. Going down the startup path was a leap of faith. When I was offered the position after graduation, I met with my boss at a café. We talked for a bit, and he got right to it. He told me what the company was looking for and that he needed an answer from me right away. As in, he needed an answer before we walked out the door of that café. I said yes. I didn’t have a second thought because I knew it was what I wanted to do.
Sure, corporate life was nice. You get bonuses, receive incremental raises, and set clear work schedules depending on your position. There is a process, guideline, or order for almost everything. There are company perks like parking spots, offices in nice buildings, and annual company retreats to hotel resorts. Sometimes you’re given a company phone or laptop if you’ve hit the jackpot. Most importantly, there is a sense of stability. This all sounds great, but to me, the culture got dull, boring, and too safe.
When you work in a startup, even if you may have a certain responsibility, everyone brainstorms about everything together and offers their ideas. Suggestions are usually implemented, or at least discussed. You learn what other skills you may have, or discover a passion for something you never thought you’d be good at. I’ve had a 360 experience at my company, meaning I gained in-house experience in human resources, accounting, business development and marketing, all before landing in operations for good. My time at startups has helped me to become a much more well-rounded professional.
I didn’t even really negotiate my salary, although I had set a minimum salary requirement when I was job searching. I also knew that my friends who were accepting positions with the government and larger companies were getting higher offers. It was probably a mistake on my part to not negotiate my salary, but the budgets are not as big as they are at multinational companies and government entities, so there was little room for negotiation. In my experience, money can’t be your primary motive if you want to work at a startup. You really have to choose this because you enjoy what you’re doing, and because it’s not like in the corporate world, where you get overtime or pay raises when you’re doing more than your scope of work.
Although it is crazy hectic, things get done faster in startup life, which is another reason I grew to love my new job. When I worked a corporate job, there were often a million approvals to go through to adhere to the bureaucracy in a corporate environment. Corporate life also has more of a hierarchy, whereas you have a closer relationship with your boss when they are sitting next to you, which is often the case at a startup. At a startup, you can move up in the ranks much faster as well. If the company is growing and you are performing your role well, you may naturally start managing new hires. This was also one of the biggest reasons I was happy joining a small team at first, because I knew I could only go up from there. We’ve about tripled in size in the last year, and now I am managing a team of four employees.
There is a lot of flexibility with my work schedule because the most important part of the job is that you get your work done, rather than when you get your work done. I don’t worry about being late, or leaving a bit earlier than usual sometimes, as long as I’m not leaving anything urgent unfinished.
Now that I have a substantial amount of startup experience to compare to my former corporate experience, I realize that finding the right job is really about figuring out where you fit in terms of culture, work environment, and career path. I don’t judge my friends who work in corporate companies and say they are “playing it safe,” or are stuck in boring jobs. Because even though they occasionally complain about the monotony, I know there is a reason they’ve chosen that path, and that’s perfectly okay. Similarly, they can say that I’m taking too much of a risk at my current job, when I could have landed a nice job with a big company, and that’s equally fair. However, I don’t think I could ever switch back to fully corporate life and truly enjoy it, even though it might come with a big raise. As of now, I’m too invested in my job, and I’ve come to love the startup life.
Claudia, currently living in Dubai, UAE, is a native of Haiti. She follows culture, travel, business, and tech. She is on Instagram.
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