Saturday, September 7, 2019

How My Work In Start-Up Firm Is Different From My Other Corporate Roles

As some of you might know, I had to reverse my sabbatical plan and return back to work due to some circumstances back home.

I've completed the first full week of my new role in the startup firm so I thought I put down some thoughts on how is it different from my other corporate roles in the past.

Location & Working Environment

The office is in the co-working space in one of the malls in the Central area so it is something very refreshing to me.

In the past when I was working for my corporate roles, my desk is a squarish cubicle cells so to have something different is a nice scenery change.

The co-working space is shared amongst the many start-up firms they have there so the environment is very vibrant and lively and there's this sense of positive attitude that spreads across everyone.

Most of the meeting rooms are really nice and there are often events (and food) that you can grab or attend while you're there.

They also have a lot of resting area, a nice pantry and a ping pong, football and golf area to do some light exercise, not to mention the countless hunks and syt babes walking past your desk everyday.

No complaints about that.

Casual Dressing Style

For 13 years, I've been dressing up in a corporate style of long shirt and black pants.

In my big 4 days, I even had to wear a tie in the office even when not meeting clients which I thought was rather silly.

At some points, I was rather exhausted with all the corporate dressing requirements because I just felt it took up a lot of my energy to consume.

The dressing style here is casual, which means technically everyday t shirt and jeans will be good to go.

I find my energy level is higher when I am comfortable wearing what I like to start the day with.

Colleagues and Boss

The colleagues are a bunch of pretty fun people but a pity some of them are about to leave the organization soon.

I think they might be looking to hire some operations lead and/or key account sales as replacement. If you are interested to apply, you can always ping me to check.

It appears that some, if not most of them cannot get along well with the CEO and while on my first week I have not experienced something in a bad way, I'd be keeping my toes up on that.

The CEO is 27 years young, and is someone who comes from Mckinsey background so you know the style is fast, aggressive and direct to the point. I think that's what most people who's been working in start-up cannot relate to. For me, I've experienced a lot of such bosses in the corporate role so maybe my tolerance level could be higher.

I think the key here is to manage expectations. 

On my first week, I asked him exactly the kind of information he wants me to update him on a weekly basis so I think I've set the tone and expectations right amongst us to work with.

I am 34 years old this year, which means I am by far the oldest in the company.

The average age of the workforce is only about 28 years old so that speaks volume how lao I am today.

Role & Work

I'm heading the Finance side, but being a start up you literally have to do a lot of things on your own.

This is different from my other roles in the past where I have people under me who I can delegate the work to.

I do have an account assistant which is sitting in the Jakarta office so it will be long distance relationship and some things are difficult to delegate due to the proximity.

There's a lot of outsourcing to third party such as tax accounts and payroll so the roles involve a lot of liaising with third party.

One of the main key roles is to manage the management accounts and then have it present to the parent group and key investors every quarter to let them know where we are on the expansion.

This will be critical because the firm depends on key investors' funding to survive.

Unlike my other roles in the past where there are multiple layers of hierarchy, decisions on this one are made short and sweet because the hierarchy is lean.

Final Thoughts

My overall impression on the first week is rather good.

It could be because of the different working environment, roles or dressing attire which makes it refreshing to me. Having many good looking boys and girls around you doesn't hurt the eyes and minds either.

Being a value investor for so long on the personal front, I have also been overly cautious to invest in such companies whenever the accounts don't look good BUT I think it might not be always the case.

Entering into this different world of domain changes my perspectives of looking into companies differently on this and I think this might the biggest takeaway at the moment.

I get the feeling that for graduates who start working in a start-up firm, it will be very difficult for them to move to a traditional corporate role because I doubt a lot could adapt to the grinding of the expectations. It seems like it is easier to adapt moving from a corporate cubicle to a free working space where you can move around.

Being in a start-up firm however, means your job is likely to be less stable than working for MNCs so that is also something to take into account. 

Does anyone has any experience to share on your account the difference between working for start-up vs corporate firms?

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Is the pay good?


    1. this is something i am curious too.
      is it comparable to the corporate?
      with equity?
      how about benefits?

    2. I'd rather not discuss it so openly here :D

  2. how to work with so many distractions? =))

  3. Didn't know you're in a startup Brian! Saw your LinkedIn was with dbs no? As you know I'm in a small outfit myself - and having interned at dbs too.. It's somewhat a culture shock. But yes when you're in a small firm - you get to work on things that matter and excite you. The downside is - need to know where to create certain role boundaries if not you'll end up burning out and doing too many things not part of your expertise you were hired for.

    1. Hi Khin

      I think you are at a good place and I'm sure you are happy doing the things you do so I think it's a very blissful place to be in.

      I've experienced an MNC which is actually pretty fun but I must agree that it is the boss and your colleagues that make it happen. After all we spend more than half of our time in the office, somethings gotta give right? :D

  4. Previously, I have spent 7 years at a European MNC, a reputable market leader globally in its field. Having accelerated my corporate climb and hit the glass celling as a non-European, I joined a tech startup firm a few months ago.

    In terms of remuneration package wise, I have to admit is in the eyes of the beholder. Compensation such as ESOP is measured and valued differently. In terms of the monthly salary and bonus, it is dependent on a firm’s profitability and willingness to pay for talent. Regardless, the options could be worth more than a few generations of work compensation or it could be worth zero if the firm fails to effectively lengthen its lifespan. I have seen colleagues left the startup after years of committed work due to the firm’s failure to realized its intended “promises” i.e. IPO, implementation of ground breaking, innovative products, garner funding and/or provide fair compensation relative to other established corporates (anyone expecting a good remuneration, ESOP aside, would often be disappointed as my colleagues has shared). Afterall, whoever that joins a startup is essentially betting that the firm will lift off the ground like Facebook or Google etc. However, in reality, statistics has shown that the success rates of startups are far lower than most perceive it to be.

    On the work front, a MNC has built a specific reporting structure, a hierarchy where each employee are to perform a very specific role, while a startup has basically a flat reporting structure and each individual practically has a wider definition of scope. Even a title of a GM or director could easily imply a one man army at a start up. For dress code, there is no doubt that Brian’s illustration is spot on, even most CEOs of startups are in t-shirt and jeans. A formal corporate wardrobe of a long sleeve shirt and trousers will stand out as a sore thumb. I do have colleagues turning up in faded t-shirts, flip-flops and pajamas looking outfit on weekdays. There are also other non-traditional perks at a startup; transportation (Grab) credits, pool and gym facilities, free breakfast, fully stock pantry with snacks and drinks etc.

    In any case, anyone that chooses to join a start up should believe in the direction of the founder, its products and/or the greater purpose of the firm (or a means to pay the bills). Any dreams of becoming a multi-millionaire in a of handful of years of committal involvement in a start up would either leave one frustrated or disappointed.

    1. Hi Wilson

      Thanks for your detailed sharing on working between the two. I'm sure that gives a lot of inputs to people out there who is looking to switch from one to another.

  5. Congrats on your new stint. Hope all is well at home too!

  6. Hi! First post on your blog. I've picked up a lot reading here so thought I can try to contribute on this point "Does anyone has any experience to share on your account the difference between working for start-up vs corporate firms?"

    Wilsom above has given a very spot on description. Adding to that, you should also consider not all corporates are the same. For example, local banks are different from angmo banks, Temasek-linked banks are different from other local banks, and there's also a diff between US, EU and JP banks. And that's only within banking - and to do a breakdown, even the bank's focus area will affect culture and compensation. Then you have manufacturing, pharma, big tech etc. So answer is - it depends. As an employee (rather than founder), my suggestion is to focus on having a cash comp that isn't too far off from market, and your upside is really in the better work flexibility and empowerment, and of course, your options or stock.

    It's a bit late saying this since you're already in the company, but the background of the founder and the initial investors is also critical in assessing upside. More risk = more reward is standard thinking, but this also should be caveated. For example, if you join a fintech startup pre Series A, great, but if it's a startup without a star product or good access to funding, who knows right? On the other hand, consider AirBNB. Many staff would have been hired at a later funding stage, but even a few years ago, you could have seen who the investors were, and consider the business case - I would think that is a safer bet.

    IMHO, given the pace of change nowadays, most workers are better off assuming their own jobs will be disrupted, and staying agile ;-)


    1. Hi Shaun

      Thanks for adding to that.

      I guess my start up is at the very early stage seed so the expectations is not as corporate environment yet and there's pressure to deliver on the bottom line.

      There's also not much fund investors at the top to account to as well (only one big one) so the requirement is pretty straight forward too.

  7. Hi! I am actually looking for a role in key account sales. Mind sharing more on the replacement role thats available please?

    1. Hi Isabelle, can you email me your cv? My email is in my contact tab above.