In 2015, I left Microsoft for fintech startup Curve. I left a global company of over 100,000 employees and commuting from London to a business park near Reading to be one of six based in a shared office space in Old Street. The size is just one difference; there have been a lot of changes, some a blessing, others more of a challenge.
When I joined Microsoft in 2013, it was by far the largest company I had ever worked for. I was amazed by all the usual big corporate cliches: numerous acronyms, which I never quite managed to fully grasp; the number of reporting processes; and the sheer volume of departments and people. The challenge there was ensuring that the right people were kept in the loop, but ultimately the machine ran smoothly. And, although that comes with the innate challenges caused by politics, internal reporting systems, and the bolts and buttons within the system, the routine and structure can be comforting.
Making the change to startup life is challenging, both on a practical and personal level. The initial thing that struck me was the moving from ‘something’ to ‘nothing’. You leave not just the internal structures, the consistency, but also the defined brand. Working for a multinational, you know what it stands for. It’s practically a person. The thrill of entrepreneurship is that you, alongside your co-founders and team, get to set this. You get to define both the brand and culture of the company.
The flip side is that without the resources and manpower of a multi-national, the full onus falls on you.
We felt very early on that setting our mission and vision was critical to creating a foundation for Curve and the agenda for the type of company we want to be. The challenge is turning that into tangible actions, rather than marketing puff. In a startup, where things move so quickly, maintaining some kind of cultural consistency and ‘North star’ can be hard. Less so at a multinationals, where it is so deeply ingrained. But defining that vision among the team and sticking to it is critical in so many facets of the business, particularly as you scale and grow.
Multinationals have comfort in their routine and structures. This comfort can become lethargic, which drives people to seek out new challenges. However, the pace at startups is relentless – and far from comforting. That isn’t a bad thing. You have both autonomy and control, which is liberating. The flip side is that without the resources and manpower of a multi-national, the full onus falls on you. The reward from this is the learning, and the sheer breadth of it.
You reflect back after a month and realize you have probably learnt more in that time than over three to six months in a corporate job. The challenge can be how far you need to stretch yourself, while also maintaining some semblance of a personal life. At a multinational, you can leave work at the door up to a degree. At a startup you can’t because, bluntly, no one else is going to do it. That being said, it’s yours and a multinational isn’t.