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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

I'm Loving Startup Life After Working for a Big Corporation

After a few years of working in the mortgage industry, Sandrine Tien, a young professional, decided to take some time off from work to “figure out what to do in life.”

This wasn’t your typical vacation request though. Rather, Tien quit her job to travel for eight months. Of course, as someone who did something similar years earlier, I could completely relate to her decision. This is a long life, after all, and if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, you have the power to change it.

For some people, that’s as straightforward as getting a new job or changing careers. But, for others, it’s a bit more involved and takes time, deep self-reflection, and, sometimes, travel!

When Tien returned from her trip, she still didn’t have it quite figured out, and the first job she took (at an auto dealership), she did so because frankly, she “needed income.” It was OK for a while. A self-described people person, Tien explains that she “always enjoyed making people happy, talking to them, and turning their situations around,” so she was able to thrive in the customer service role—at first.

But it wasn’t long before Tien struggled with being a “guppy in the ocean” at the 500+ person company. Concerned she wasn’t being challenged or utilizing her strengths, Tien looked around and thought, “This is not my future.”

To see what led Tien to her current role as an executive liaison at Prepaired, a nascent wedding planning company, and get a feel for whether working at a startup would suit you, read on:

How Did You Get the Courage to Leave the Auto Dealership? And How Exactly Did You End up at Prepaired?

I was recruited by one of the founders of the company pre-launch (she’s a former manager from a previous position) and it started out as a side project to help a friend. But I quickly got assigned more responsibilities and took on more tasks—now I’m supporting the CEO in the launch of the company.

Can You Highlight Some of the Differences Between Working for a Corporation and a Startup?

Definitely! At a startup, there’s a lot of flexibility in trying new methods and strategies to complete a project or build a department. There’s a lot of opportunity and room to grow and get noticed.

Unlike at previous roles, there are no rigid channels you have to go through to get approval for an idea to be implemented here. There are less politics involved [in decision-making], and your opinions are much more valued. In my experience, you feel like you have a seat at the table, you’re no longer one of many—you’re one of few, and that’s a great feeling.

On the other hand, I’d say that established corporations are more stable, and that’s the risk one takes leaving a corporate position. But, for me, the trade-off is complete flexibility, the opportunity to wear many hats, learn many new skills, and be a part of something really big. 

Do You Think There Are Specific Traits One Needs to Succeed in a Startup Environment?

Tenacity and independence. There can be a lot that goes wrong in a startup: There are less resources, not everything is fully developed, etc., so having tenacity is a must. You have to be able to endure turbulent times and stay driven when it seems like nothing can go right. Being able to persevere through those times is key.

Independence is also vital. No one’s around to babysit you or check on the status of your work.

10:00 AM: Assuming I’m not meeting a vendor or fellow colleague at another location, this is when I usually arrive in the co-working space my startup provides. (I work out of this space about three days a week and work from home the other two days.)

10:15 - 12 PM: I catch up on emails, trending articles, and newsletters. Also, I review my work logs to analyze pending projects, see if any call meetings are scheduled for the day, and I prioritize which projects and tasks to focus on.

12 - 1:30 PM: I follow up with other colleagues, do social media work, and search for other potential outreach efforts.

1:30 PM to 5 PM: I usually meet with my CEO twice a week at the co-working space for a few hours to receive updates on the various departments’ progress, discuss prospective new hires, develop guidelines and procedures, and collaborate on how to best structure and delegate tasks.

When I’m not meeting with my CEO, I’m catching up on various things, following up with emails in general and from networking events, reading up on industry news, researching trends and sharing relevant articles with the team, engaging more on social media, and checking the status and progress of ongoing projects.

5:30 - 7:30 PM: If there’s a networking event at the co-working space, I attend to gain insight and gather valuable info to share with the team. If not, I catch up on emails that I didn’t get to, summarize the completed tasks of the day, create goals for the next day, and head home.

What Advice Do You Have for Someone Making the Transition From Big Corporate Office to Small, Scrappy Startup?

Communicate and define your boundaries. In my experience, at a big corporate office, there are all sorts of rules and compliances. At a startup, you’re often on your own, managing everything from your work hours, the work you’re doing, off-grid time, vacations, etc. Avoiding burnout’s a real thing.

Oftentimes, I feel I work even more now than before because I’m so connected to my work 24/7. You have to set aside downtime for yourself so that you’re taking enough breaks. It’s easy to over-work yourself at a startup because there’s so much to do. Disconnecting from all of it from time to time is crucial.

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