Having been part of both worlds, one can notice some similarities and some big differences. At the end of the day, the path you choose to follow is a matter of personal choice and happiness, but I will lay out some points as food for thought.
Big corporations usually give devices to their employees such as a mobile phone (yes, some of them even give the latest iPhone), a laptop and external hard disk drives. Of course, these are getting monitored by the company as they are strictly for professional use, which means that you cannot call your mum – unless of course she is part of the client’s team.
They also give corporate credit cards where you can charge your expenses from traveling and bills during working hours. Clearly, these bills are also getting checked, so if you are dreaming of endless shopping therapy on the company’s AMEX card you better forget about it. However, you do gather card points which drive most corporate employees to become point-collector maniacs.
Corporate companies also tend to give free gym memberships or with very special discounts which is amazing if you have any time or strength left after working some crazy long hours. A sweet deal for employees also comes occasionally with some general store discounts from clients, partners and affiliates.
Startup benefits usually include free food and beverages. If lucky enough you might get a laptop, along with flexible working hours, meaning you get no phone because you have the time to actually see your mum in person!
Many startups nowadays get good funding deals from investors and are able to match up or even exceed the equivalent corporate salaries, so depending on the position, timing and skill set, money may not be as much of a problem as one would initially assume.
Corporations usually implement proven strategies and methodologies, so what you usually end up doing is meeting after meeting, and spreadsheet after spreadsheet to keep a track of the process. In a startup you need to think outside the box and suggest disruptive methods – you need to be able to experiment, try and test new ways. If you don’t enjoy brainstorming, wearing different “hats”, creativity and inventing approaches in doing things then the startup culture is not for you.
Your impact is much greater in a smaller company than in a corporate environment, but at the same time if you mess something up it is much easier to cover it in the corporate world whereas in a startup you take full ownership of everything.
As the departments and teams are naturally smaller in startups you tend to bond more with your colleagues. Though, in both environments you will meet extremely talented people, with many years of experience and you have great things to learn as long as you are willing and keen to do so.
An important note is that you should be aware of the risk factor entailed. Things change super-fast in a startup, and the most common risk that you will hear about is the fear of it going bust as the statistics are not very encouraging ( roughly 9 in 10 fail). Financial security comes mostly in the corporate world, given that you’re good at what you do, and keep your performance high at all times.
There is no right answer or right working environment. The startup world offers a unique set of experiences which can be great on their own, but also useful should a person decide to make a shift to a corporate environment. Of course, the same stands for the corporate world where you get equipped with great skills, strategies and organized thinking. The final decision depends on what your career aspirations and personal priorities are, as well as your characters traits.