"Should I work for a startup company?"


Author: Larry Medina (Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations) at ESSEC Asia-Pacific


This week, I will address a question that I get on a regular basis. I receive this question from students in their 20s to peers in their 50s and people in between. 

With the growth of startup culture all around the world, it is driving more people to consider joining or even starting their own. 

Note that I will be making some generalizations. These generalizations are made to help frame your decision-making process while still realizing that each startup can be unique. 

Evaluate your skills

As I have mentioned previously, I recommend that you first evaluate your skills, motivators, and interests, using the terminology from the CareerLeader assessment. This will help you understand if you are a match. 

For example, if you are highly motivated by security or have a personal situation requiring a high degree of security, then startups may not be a good match as 90% of startups fail. 

Or, if you decide to start a startup, look for ways to mitigate your risk and potential stress related to the uncertainty. 

This is just one example. Another would be if your skills are more aligned with team management, you may be an individual contributor or manager of a small team in early-stage startups. 

You could still do well in a startup but best to be aware of potential mismatches before you join. 

Preferred growth path

Also, there are different development opportunities in startups versus multinational companies (MNCs). MNCs will usually provide more opportunities to develop related to policies, procedures, and governance.

In general, MNCs need very defined structures in place to manage the size and breadth of activities. If publicly traded, these structures can be legislated as well. 

Also, MNCs will usually have more structured employee development training. For startups, the development is likely more hands-on with greater responsibilities and projects. Before you join a startup, think about whether you are the type of person that always read the instructions manual, or you just start pushing buttons to try to figure it out. 

From startups to MNCs

There are a number of considerations that I will not cover here. Compensation, branding, ability to move into an MNC later are all common questions. 

For a number of these items, they do not represent barriers to future career moves but may require additional explanations. 

For example, if you are joining an MNC from a startup, you might have to explain why your base pay was lower and that you had equity or other benefits. 

Or you may have to explain what the company does as it will most likely not be common knowledge. 


To recap, whether a startup is right for you depends on your own profile and whether it is a match for the startup culture. 

In general, startups are higher risk, less structured — requiring more adaptability to fill gaps, and with fewer layers of management approval required for decisions. 

This environment can be extremely energizing or extremely frustrating depending on your profile. I hope this insight helps your decision along. 

“FutureCast” is a regular series featuring solution-focused opinions and counsel by ESSEC Asia-Pacific’s faculty, staff, and students on the latest business trends. The career tips are written by Larry Medina, Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations at ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business School.

Larry Medina is the Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations at ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business School. For more career tips, follow #careertipswithlarry.  Read previous tips from this series. 


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