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A Corporate Company vs a Startup: Why We Need Both

At the early stages of your career it can be hard to decide whether to apply for a job in an early stage, fast-paced startup or a large, long standing corporation. The truth is that these are two very different paths with their upsides and downsides. 

 

What's a startup and what's a corporate company?

Before diving into the differences between a large corporation and a startup, it is important to have a clear understanding of what they both entail and what their main characteristics are. 

Startups

A startup consists of a newly established business founded by one or more entrepreneurs with the aim of providing an innovative product or service to the market. 

One of the main characteristics of a startup is that it will always seek to evolve and change. The final product of a startup company will not necessarily be what they aimed to create at the start. Instagram, for example, is now one of the largest social media platforms in the world. However, this platform was originally created for a different purpose to the one it has today. In fact, Instagram was originally called Burbn and its main purpose was to allow people to check-in where they were on their mobile app web. Keving Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of this app, decided to completely alter the purpose of this platform since it had the same purpose to other established mobile apps. Thus, the founders decided to delete all the features of the original app to fixate solely on communications through images, ex: uploading photos and commenting on friends and family’s photos. 

Another main characteristic is their focus to offer innovation. Startups usually emerge when their founders have their eyes set on a certain problem that they truly believe they can solve it by launching their product. Take the example of Airbnb that emerged when Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, the founders of the app, realised the large number of people that struggled to pay rent and the increasing number of tourists that were unable to pay for hotel rooms due to their high prices. They saw an opportunity and they took it. 

Finally, startups sometimes struggle to receive funding, especially in their first years, which means money is often tight. Startups tend to receive their initial funding from friends and family of the founder or from the founder themselves. 

Corporate companies

A corporate company is a legal entity created by individuals, stockholders, or shareholders, with the purpose of operating for profit. Corporations are allowed to enter into contracts, sue and be sued, own assets, remit federal and state taxes, and borrow money from financial institutions.

Working for a corporation usually encompasses working regular office hours and having a set number of tasks to carry out. Corporations also tend to be risk averse and will most likely decide against large scale company restructurings or huge changes that might diminish their profits. Nevertheless, this does not mean that corporations are not innovative. Companies, such as Amazon or Apple, are constantly launching new products with their brand. 

Contrary to startup companies, corporations have higher cash flows and can source funds from selling stocks. 

 

Is one better than the other?

The truth is, it’s different for every single person. The key is finding the work environment and culture that you feel most comfortable in and most importantly that you can thrive in. Thirty years ago, the majority of people aimed at working for a large corporation since this was the most feasible way to enter the job market. However, having witnessed the rise of Facebook or Google, I think it is safe to say that startups also have the potential of growing into larger, renowned companies. 

To assist you in figuring out what career path is best for you, we have talked to previous interns that have shared their experiences undertaking an internship in both startups and large corporations. We have also interviewed Sunny Saurabh, the CEO and founder of a startup company, Interviewer.Al, and Simon Gallagher, the head of Established Brands Franchise for the corporation of Takeda in Singapore. 

 

What Makes a Startup Different From a Corporation

Fast-paced vs slower-paced environment

If you decide to undertake an internship for a startup company, you must be able to keep up with a fast-paced environment.  Your tasks and responsibilities might be completely different from one week to the next or even from one day to another. You will also most likely be given more independence to carry out your tasks and your proactiveness will be encouraged and valued. 

The smaller the start-up, the more likely you will be picking up new responsibilities, simply because there are fewer people in the company to work on that task so the more people than collaborate, the more chances there will be to overcome an obstacle or a problem. 

Sandy Agustines undertook an internship in Interviewer.AI in the summer of 2019. Interviewer.AI is a startup company based in Singapore that optimises recruitment processes by helping hiring managers in diverse industries recruit applications. This startup has successfully cut down screening processes by 80%. 

Ms Agustines explains that she was pleasantly surprised with the amount of responsibility she was given as an intern. 

“I think if I would have worked in a corporate company I wouldn’t have been given as much responsibility for my tasks, especially being a sophomore in college without any prior internship experience. I really appreciated the vote of confidence since I was able to experience everything first-hand.” 

 

The flexibility a startup can offer has its benefits and downsides. On the one hand, you might need to stay in the office a couple extra hours one day to solve a last minute problem. On the other hand, working in a startup environment can give you the opportunity to advance quickly from a entry-level position to a senior-level one. 

If you are willing to wear multiple hats, embrace change and be proactive enough to suggest new ideas and innovations for the company, working for a startup might be just right for you. 

 

Corporate positions tend to have well-defined roles where tasks and responsibilities are already defined and you will know precisely what your manager expects from you. The benefits of having a set role in a specific department is that there is a clear structure to your work and this can help minimize the stress that workplace ambiguity might encompass. In addition, if you focus just on one role, you can really improve a certain set of skills, without having to take on other tasks. 

In the summer of 2019, Cole Mackey carried out a pharmaceutical internship at Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company based in Singapore that focuses on oncology, rare diseases, neuroscience, gastroenterology and Plasma Delivered Therapies. Takeda operates in 80 countries that have different healthcare systems and economic statuses with the common objective to position highly innovative medicines and transformative care for patients all over the world. 

 

Cole Mackey (left) and Andrew Farmer (right) during their internship at Takeda.

Mr Mackey recalls his first day at the office with joy since his manager introduced him to everyone in his department and discussed the specific projects and tasks he would work on. 

“I mainly worked with employees from my department but I managed to connect with other co-workers in different departments and discussed their role in the company and their professional journey before starting working at Takeda”.

 

In a corporation, you will also most likely receive well-structured training which will prepare you for your role and will clearly explain the company’s standard and culture. In startup companies you will receive training too but you will also be expected to pick things up as you go. 

Mr Gallagher, the head of Established Brands Franchise of Takeda, explains that Takeda strives to make internship programmes attractive, well structured and supported by adequate training and supervision. 

“Although interns will be expected to work independently, they will receive a clear training and will work under direct supervision.”

 

What's the impact of your work?

Startups are usually composed of smaller teams with sometimes just 15 employees in the company. This means that you will be directly involved in the project and will probably be able to see the fruits of your efforts much faster than if you worked in a corporate job where projects usually take months to conclude. 

Mr Saurabh, the CEO of Interviewer.AI, explains that interns are encouraged to be a part of the decision-making process. 

“In meetings, we evaluate the pros and cons of each idea, before making a decision. Interns always get first-hand experience of the decision-making process and they are able to analyse how every decision can impact the organisation's growth.”

 

Due to the fact that corporate companies operate at a bigger scale than startups, projects take much longer to conclude. Thus, if you intern at a corporate you might not see the results of your hard work until a few months later, after concluding the internship, which can be frustrating for those who really want to see the impact of their work. 

The upside to this is that the work you will carry out will most likely have a global impact since corporate companies usually have offices in different countries around the world. Consequently, a project you assisted in completing might have a positive result in countries where you have never even visited before. 

Mackey recalls participating in projects which required collaboration with 35 different countries to ensure accuracy and maintain privacy. 

“Projects could take months to wrap up since the work we carried out had to undergo legal and medical reviews. I understood the need for this since the work I was doing was going to have a global impact.”

 

Hierarchical vs flat organizational structure

Startups generally have a flatter organizational structure. According to Forbes, a flat structure has barely any management levels between staff and management. This is usually done to encourage employees to work autonomously. It also promotes an increased involvement in decision-making which encourages employees to be proactive about sharing new ideas that could benefit the company. 

Sandy Agustines explained that since Interviewer.AI was still quite small when she interned at the company, there were no concrete departments set up so it was easier to establish connections and work with everyone at the company. In fact, her direct supervisor and boss was Sunny Saurabh, the CEO and founder of the company. 

“I mainly worked with him on most of my projects and tasks. We would even have lunch together and talk about how the company was doing but also about my university or our hometowns. It was great!” 

 

Mr Saurabh, the CEO and founder of Interviewer.Al, explains that the company has a flat hierarchy where every employee or intern who joins the company is instantly treated as an equal. 

“We want our interns to be part of our company’s culture. Interns can take ownership and responsibility and are given the freedom to consult various stakeholders when necessary.”  

Corporate companies tend to have a more hierarchical structure, where there are different levels of leadership positions. In addition, in a corporation you probably will not be able to meet the CEO of the company, given that corporations usually have multiple locations around the world. 

“I was not able to meet the CEO of Takeda but I met the president of the Emerging Markets division in the Asia-Pacific area,” Mackey highlighted, “I was even invited to sit on a strategy meeting with him!” 

 

Mr Gallagher explains that Takeda really values the fresh perspectives and ideas that interns bring to the table. Thus, every employee at the company strives to create a fully inclusive working environment, inviting interns to meetings and social events and giving them access to their internal resources so that they can fully immerse themselves into the company culture and work philosophy. 

“Each generation of young talent is generally more tech-savvy than the previous one,” Mr Gallagher points out. “They provide innovative perspectives on business strategies and present an opportunity for employees to learn and explore new digital strategies.” 

 

So... corporation or startup? 

Although working in a large corporation can be completely different to working in a startup, it heavily depends on the environment you feel more comfortable in and you can thrive in. Both Sandy and Cole felt extremely comfortable during their internship even though they worked in completely different environments. 

They both worked in an international environment with different nationalities working in the same office. Both Sandy and Cole realised the importance of having diversity in the workplace and learning about different cultures and customs on a daily basis. 

 

"I am so happy I choose to undertake an internship at Interviewer.AI. I had the chance to truly challenge myself and I now feel so much more confident speaking in front of an audience, which is something I used to struggle with. This experience definitely opened my eyes to the start-up world. I am even considering starting my own company in the future!"

- Sandy Agustines, business development intern in a startup.

 

"I was astounded by the growth and guidance that this internship provided me. I found a career path that I'm still following to this day. After my experience with Takeda, I was sold on working in a larger corporation. I'll take this experience with me for the rest of my life." 

- Cole Mackey, prices and market intern in a corporation

 

 

Cole Mackey: prices and market intern.

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