Tech Startups vs Large Enterprise: A Insider’s Perspective

I am currently (at the time this article was written anyway) working for a large (6,000+ people) Fortune 500 company. However, this was not always the case.

Actually, I started my career (straight out of college) for a small biotech startup (Assurex — very cool and very advanced personalized medicine company BTW that you may want to check out). At the time of graduation, I had two offers on my table (this was a shock to me already!) for a full time software engineering position. One was for this cool tech startup, and the other was for a large Fortune 500 insurance company in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.

This was a really tough decision for me. I certainly thought that the small biotech startup sounded a lot cooler (DNA extraction and gene analysis!? Common that is cool). However, I was also tempted to pick the safe, large, and financially stable enterprise company that I knew would be around for a long time and could be a good place to start my career. Assurex (the small startup) was really neat but when I say small startup, I mean SMALL startup. There was only eight other employees in the company and their meeting room was literally a garage (no joke!).

Well, against what my mother wanted me to do (take the safe option), I decided to take a chance with the cool startup. Yeah, I wasn’t making as much money at the startup as I would have been at the large enterprise, but I was doing something that I genuinely believed could change the world (and it has, just check out this TEDx talk about the technology). Also, I believed that I had a lot to learn, and after meeting people at Assurex, I knew they would provide me with the greatest learning environment over the large company. I literally sat right in between Assurex’s Vice President of Software Development and the head of Quality Assurance and IT. Needless to say, I was learning more stuff in a few months after working there than I had in 4 years in college and was learning from the experts themselves.

The story doesn’t end there though. How could I compare the two companies if I have only worked at a small startup? Well stay with me, I am getting to that.

Assurex began to really start growing fast around 2010 and 2011 as the rest of the world caught on to what we were doing. I saw the company out grow the garage and move into a facility probably ten times as big as our old space (complete with a gym and a swimming pool).  I began to see new faces everyday and quickly felt like I no longer knew everyone in the company. Soon we were over 250+ employees toward the end of 2014. It was exciting to see so much growth and to learn so much in the process.

That is when I decided that it was time to for me to move on.

Weird timing? Some people say so. I enjoyed so much of the camaraderie that you have with a smaller startup and the feeling that I was truly making a difference with every line of code that I wrote (I know that my code still made a big impact, but it just didn’t feel the same to me).

Anyway, I am a firm believer in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things that you have yet to master. I wasn’t learning at the same rate that I was when I first joined Assurex and I was ready for a new challenge that would push me to the next level.

Enter, “The Large Enterprise”.

At this time, I believed that the large enterprise (6000+ or more employees) would be the best place for me to learn about situations that smaller companies don’t have to deal with yet (serving millions of customers, and dealing with very large teams and projects that require strong communication skills across domains).

I ended up taking a job at a large insurance company in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.

Wait… That sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Yep, that is because I was lucky enough to be contacted and offered a Sr. Software Engineering job from the same company that offered me a job back in 2010 when I chose Assurex. Weird how that stuff works out isn’t it?

Well, I have been with the “large enterprise company” (Great American Insurance) for over a year now and can say that I have learned a lot from them as well, mainly in the areas that I specified above. I like it here as well but I don’t think any place will ever have the magical feel of a startup that is beginning to take off. That wasn’t the reason I joined Great American though. I have grown here and met some very intelligent people in the process that I plan to stay connected with the rest of my life. I’ve worked on systems that were larger than anything a startup could imagine and improved my performance skills when dealing with a large user base and heavy traffic.

If you are in the dilemma that I was in and having a hard time deciding which type of company you should choose, I offer this suggestion and advice:

You should pick the team you are most excited to work with, will learn the most from, and most want to be like.

Big companies and startups both have advantages and disadvantages. Also big companies vary a lot, and startups even more so. I can’t give blanket statements that will be true for every startup or big company and they may be different from the companies that you are considering.

Some questions you should ask yourself are:

  1. Do You Know What Your Dream Career Would Be, or Are You Still Deciding?
  2. What Resources Do You Need to Reach Your Goals?
  3. What Kind of Influence Do You Want—and How Quickly?
  4. What Environment Will Really Help You Succeed?
  5. Who Will I be Working With. How Closely?

For me personally, it comes down number 5 from the list above more than all of the others. I would choose based on the specific people you’ll be working with. They’re the ones who’ll teach you the most, who’ll bring you along to their future jobs, who you’ll eventually start startups with. I’d take almost any job, if it was with the best possible people.

If you liked this post, please share it, like it, or subscribe to my blog at Doing so helps me decide what is the best content to post and deliver to all you reading! Thanks again, and have a great day!




Leave a Reply