As a freelancer with a tinge of an online presence I often get to be picky about whom I work with. In a sense this ties into my post about the mindset of the current generation– I’m not picky because I get so many offers, I’m picky because I like to enjoy my work.

Tokyo Tower

Image by konishiroku_ via Flickr

This is why I only work with startups.

Yes, I’ve worked with nonstartups before, I no longer want to; enough of that nonsense. Nonstartups are just inherently annoying and horrible to work with, rather than filling me with a sense of pride those projects always make me feel feel like I just sold my body to the ugliest hairyest guy on the block (not that I’ve done this before, I’m guessing)

So what are the top few reasons I love working with startups?

1. Working directly with calling-the-shots people

Having a direct contact to people calling the shots is very important for me. It allows me to get a sense for what they actually want, rather than just what words are coming out of their mouth. This way I can focus my efforts on what really matters when it matters – sometimes it’s just better to Get It Working than doing it right.

In a big corporation orders trickle down through a chain, getting reimagined and reinterpreted on every step and when they finally get to you, there’s only a sense of what you were told to do and all sense of what matters is lost.

2. Impact

Directly tied to the sense of context, is having an impact in the company. When somebody is just starting out with their product, you’re helping to shape their vision, you can give good feedback and make use of your experience – in a sense you’re helping somebody achieve their dream and that’s a Great Feeling ™.

Working as an emotionless engineer, a faceless cog who just gets his part done in the big machine … well I’m sure you can imagine how that doesn’t even begin to compare.

3. The fast pace

Fast gul

Image by aginorz via Flickr

A great thing of a small team is the fast pace everything moves at. Since you’re talking directly to those in charge and everyone shares the vision at least a bit (otherwise why work for this startup?) everything moves quickly. An idea is pushed into the system and a couple of days later it can be implemented and tested.

Conversely when working with an established organization, somebody gets an idea, there is a meeting for those responsible of the creative vision shaping, then a meeting between a representative of the leader class and a representative of the implementation class. Then the implementation class has a meeting of their own. By the time you start working on something months might have passed and even the original idea-giver has probably already lost passion.

4. Interesting work

Some interesting early attempts at suspension.

Image via Wikipedia

The work at startups is usually more interesting as well. Might be because I enjoy working with new technologies and startups are likelier to take a risk with new technology. Or maybe it’s just because I like working on products helping actual people rather than faceless hypothetical entities.

A pain point working for established companies is that you often edn up working on internal tools aimed at internal tools aimed at internal people for internal purposes. Sometimes they never even get pushed into production because some boss up high was fired and the new one must assert his rule.

5. No politics

I haven’t personally had to deal with a lot of politics, but I’ve talked to people working in government all their lives – some times it feels like the sole reason they even go to work is to deal with the other people working there.

You know, instead of doing their job.

6. Self-organization

What I love about small teams comes directly from the fact there are no people whose sole purpose in life is looking after you. Because everyone in a small team is a focused professional a sense of trust is built; people no longer feel like they have to check up on everythign everyone does, you can just give the team some loosely defined orders and they’ll figure it out.

Nigel Harrison's Autonomy - Near MGSM hotel

Image via Wikipedia

Startups in general care more about results than how you actually do something. If you can make a good case for why you chose to do something they way you chose to do it, and if it works, nobody really cares.

In a corporation with many layers of management it becomes much more important for managers to feel useful and so they get int he way. This is also a self-fullfiling prophecy since all the good people leave and in the end you actually _need_ tiger management.

7. Simpler money on clearer terms

Wasn’t sure if I should include this at first, but it’s kind of important.

When it comes to money, big organizations and government-like entities are always convoluted, take forever to pay up and it never goes smoothly. Probably stems from the fact that everyone involved has their cushy job, gets paid a fixed amount of money on the same date every month and they simply have no empathy for the poor freelancer trying to make a living client to client.

I mean, obviously, why should it be a problem to deliver a project quickly and then wait a month to get paid? And what do you mean you’re annoyed when it takes us two weeks to process the paperwork because that one guy is on vacation?

Almost no matter how much you charge these people it always feels like you aren’t being paid enough to deal with their bullshit.

In a startup there’s none of that. Everyone involved is much more down to earth and respects the feeling of urgency when it comes to money. I like that.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, working for startups is more enjoyable and personal, more interesting on a technical level and generally free of that feeling like you’re trying to run with an open parachute strapped to your back.

Anyone working with big corps care to disagree?

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  • Tim Koschuetzki

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing your view. I agree on all fronts. ūüôā

  • Dan Callahan

    The content of this article is nice, but the double-whammy of rape and prostitution analogies in the first section was rather unpleasant. I can only speak for myself, but I would personally really appreciate it if you’d find other ways to express yourself in that regard.

    To wit, your point would be just as clear if you ended the sentence at “rather than filling me with a sense of pride,” and you’d get to shave 30 words off the post.

  • julien lengrand-lambert

    I would say the exact say thing, and this is my big aim too.
    Have you ever had bad experiences with startup? I mean, having chosen the bad one ? 
    And another question, which I can’t solve by myslef:¬†
    don’t you think that having no experience in big companies on your CV could be a brake in you carrier plan later on ?¬†

  • Brent Anderson

    I agree with you in most cases. ¬†However, I’ve been ripped off by start-ups (lesson learned) and have contracted with a Fortune 500 where I joined what might be the best team I’ve ever been on. ¬†In the end it’s all about the team.

  • Jeremy

    Why I’ll never work for startups: Health insurance, other benefits, and the reasonable expectation that a larger company will still be in business in a year.

    Personally, I find practicality more interesting than anything else.

  • J

    Majority of startups will certainly be happy to offer you first hand conversation with person calling the shots in this context: “we’re startup so we can’t pay you market price, working hours are long but your impact on company is strong and potential reward is HUGE!”. So you’ll end up with everything he promised, but forever postponed “potential reward” that never comes.
    Everything is clear and fine – but the problem with long working hours is that you don’t have time left to really express your talents on building your personal fun side online business. So if potential startup reward never materializes (which is usually the case) you left at the square one + hopefully new skills gain.
    In this aspect working for huge predictable corporate job has clear advantage:
    – 8-9am – you build your own startup
    – 9-5pm – corp job
    – 6-9pm –¬†you build your own startup

    Once your own startup revenues exceeds corp salary, you fire your boss and become the person “calling the shots”.

  • Cristiano Fontes

    Hi, I am using google chrome and the font of your site is terrible… almost not possible to read, it’s like the letters are missing pixels in the borders… I couldn’t finish to read the article because it was making me go mad.

  • Anonymous

    I think the ideal environment is small/medium businesses. I’m at my second seriously long-term employment at the moment which is a SMB of about 30 employees. Too big to be a start-up, but it was a start-up once. No corporate crap (wearing a suit and tie, adhering to strict beaurocratic procedures). We get some of the corporate benefits (pension, death in service etc.) and some of the start-up benefits you mention (direct interaction with MD/CEO, company casual nights out, wearing shitty clothes, everyone knows each other pretty well). It’s the best of both worlds, but is a real rare find, especially if you find a company with an amazing culture (which I have luckily done!) and working ethos.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah – you’re totally right, it IS about the team. If you work with a great team, it makes your job so much more enjoyable!

  • Visopsys

    Have you ever worked for Google?

  • Kristofer Thurston

    It’s an interesting perspective, and I agree with it. I’m an IT guy and there’s nothing better in the world than setting up a new system. New money, new ideas, new toys, new concepts. It’s truly fun. Come back to the same place five years later and money’s tight, management is trying to survive financially, leadership concepts have changed, etc… and trying to replace the tech that’s now 5 – 6 years old is like pulling teeth from a hungry tiger.

    Problem is that all companies grow and that growth requires organizational maturity, which can be very stifling if the leadership is not extremely adept at managing growth. Startups are great and fun because they’re free flowing and flexible, a condition directly related to a lack of organizational maturity.¬†

    Unfortunately, the goal of business is to make money. To continue making money, companies have to grow. To grow successfully, those companies have to develop some organizational maturity. There are some who have done it right. Every level of the company is accessible to any employee. The janitor can walk in and have coffee with the CEO and it’s no big deal. But the really big, really successful companies, just to manage their size alone, end up so rigid and stiff that the really creative and fun people that these very companies need refuse to work for them.

    Look at Google. They’re organizational maturation is probably the best out of anyone, but even still, they’re beginning to be compared to Microsoft in their growing¬†bureaucracy. But what can you expect for a company that’s now 32000 employees strong? It takes a little bureaucracy to manage that. And just how useful would an executive be if he or she were completely accessible to each and every one of those 32000? Probably not very.

    So, yes… working for startups is great. Unfortunately, if it’s a good startup that’s destined to last, it will likely turn into a bloated pig of a corporation at some point. There are rare exceptions, but to get a job at those companies is almost impossible. They only hire the best of the best, because the can, and no one ever really leaves.

  • Yes that was in poor taste so I removed the rape part. However working purely for money without there being any joy in it still feels like prostitution.

  • As a consultant ¬†you still get all of those benefits if you want them. Personally I get them on account of being a student so the government pays for those.

  • That’s why you also ask for fair compensation right now. That way any possibility of a huge reward is merely a bonus and you’re fine even if it never comes.

  • I read it every day on google chrome and it looks fine … what OS are you using?

  • Richard Werner

    Are you married or have kids that depend on your income?

  • I think a company that was once a real startup will have a really hard time becoming something very horrible to work at and will, as you say, tend to have the best of both worlds.

  • I agree with your point.
    But didn’t Google have a massive exodus of people going to Facebook last year?

  • The worst startup I’ve chosen so far has been my own. Not that I didn’t love founding it and working there, but things didn’t work out and that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth ūüôā

    As for the CV, no I don’t think it will be a brake in my later carrer because I don’t think I’ll ever really want to work with the sort of companies that need a stronger CV than showing them a bunch of cool projects you’ve done.

  • Tron

    The share links and other left bar stuff also makes cellphone reading not possible for me, which is sorta a shame.  I have been getting a lot of this via HN lately, maybe everyone is using the same base theme?

  • Tron

    I guess I missed the original but the current version is pretty sound. ¬†I’ve been on both sides of this big business vs. freelancer topic and I certainly can’t imagine ever going back to a large business environment ever again. The analogy seems right to me. ¬†

    I do take freelance jobs from big business though because it does connect me with the CEOs and the higher-ups that are hard to connect with for staff internal to an organization.  The key thing here is to charge enough to make their hassle worth your while.

  • Meh

    tl;dr Author will abandon your project once things actually get complicated.

  • Meh

    tl;dr Author will quit your project once things actually get complicated; he also deletes comments disagreeing with this point of view. 

  • Now that’s just mean. Especially the part about me deleting comments.

  • Now that’s just mean.

  • Nope and nope. This probably affects my worldview a LOT.

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  • Great perspective and I’m glad that you shared it.

    Two points to consider:
    1) Impact is indeed very important. However, some problems can be impacted the most by working through existing institutions. I believe that ‘institutional impact’ should also command respect in startup circles. (To be clear, I am not making the argument that every big company drives significant ‘institutional impact’. However, I would argue that the companies that don’t make an impact evenetually die.)

    2) Not all non-startups are created equal. For example, when I worked as a consultant, I enjoyed many, if not all, of the characteristics of a great work environment that you detail above.

  • Thanks for the post.¬† Very well written and I’m going to link to it on our company Facebook feed.¬† We are a startup incubator/venture firm and we help build startups.¬† Occasionally we help larger companies do something innovative that they no longer have the capacity to do because all their more entrepreneurial, start-uppy, doers have left the company, but it’s always like pulling teeth to get things done.¬† You’d like to help them reinvent certain aspects of what they do, but usually it’s more trouble than it’s worth and in the end, you don’t feel as accomplished.¬†

  • Anonymous

    In overall terms I agree with your conclusions, however,¬†I don’t really think it’s a matter of working with startups but rather working with who you like to work, which according to your experience is startups (you explained well your reasons 1-7). ¬†

    In my opinion, you may find interesting jobs on big companies too if you have the chance to work with the right teams but it is obvious that some issues you mention will make your job a little bit more boring (e.g. politics, buroucracy). 

  • You’re right, it’s mostly about being able to enjoy the work that you do. If you can find that in a big company, good for you!

  • Marko

    My perosnal observation is, that your view, which whom I agree, is quite rare. Sadly, even younger people prefer safety, fixed job, fixed salary over excitement, engagement, thrill and variable monetary satisfaction. I would love to be wprking with you. Cheers, Marko

  • I have a soft spot for the startup as well. I just think it’s good to a have a few large, slow paying but well being large clients and get the majority of the joy from working with the little guys.

  • you work in heaven¬†
    sincerly 
    from hell —-one of the renowned corporate place in UK.

  • you have a steady income
    sincerly,freelance world ūüôā

  • Well I’m a student as well, so unfortunately I don’t have time for having more than one client at a time.

  • You’re possibly just observing the wrong people. Get out of your comfort zone, there’s bound to be a community of entrepreneurial-minded individuals somewhere near you.

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  • Kristofer Thurston

    Yep… but then again, people always go where the money is.

  • Kristofer Thurston

    Followup note: After thinking about this for a while, I realized that while this sounds ideal, only starting up can lead to a lack of perspective on what it takes to make something that lasts. I’ve picked up the hot mess others have left behind and it’s not fun. I’ve also been handed projects that were built to last. Documentation was complete and organized, even including narratives explaining major whys. Logical structure and plans for the future were left for me to run with.

    Even if you have solid experience taking over and/or maintaining older projects or organizations, you have to come back to it every once in a while. It’s really easy to forget what it’s like.

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