My Transition: Cloistered Corporate to Social Start-up

I have been doing a lot of compare/contrast since I came to India - especially around my workplace and my job responsibilities.  Going from an incredibly cloistered corporate environment to a social start up in the developing world is big jump.  

I first started with a large steel company directly after college, mostly because I couldn’t find a job right out of school and this seemed like a good option.  Obviously, steel company work wasn’t for me, and I jumped on the IDEX train, and feel I am really in my element.  But for people ( and other potential IDEX fellows who are also in the same corporate transition), this contrast list might prove helpful.  It can truly be night and day moving from the corporate environment to a startup, especially a socially responsible organization.

Work Environment – In a startup, work is much more casual.  You don’t have to wear dress pants and a nice shirt everyday.  A nice shirt with jeans is permissible, and I mostly wear kutis (traditional Indian wear) to work most of the time. Additionally, work hours are less strict - the most important part is that you get your work DONE.  And typically this will mean that you need to work beyond your office hours; like at home or on the weekend.  Face to face time is very important too, and I usually like to be in the office for free Internet and the chance to talk to people one on one.  

Responsibilities and Roles – I did have a fairly negative experience working in a corporate, so my viewpoint may be a little skewed.  Generally, in a large bureaucratic organization like a corporate, roles are more defined, so that to minimize risk and track responsibility.  But in a startup, roles are more permeable, and you are permitted (and even encouraged) to define your own responsibilities.  I am in charge of implementing two projects - creating the organization’s website and deploying the organization’s internal IT system - and it took me a while to realize that I had managerial responsibility over these tasks.  My managers are very patient with me, and I feel like I’ve developed a lot of leadership skills over the three months that I’ve been here.  But still I have gotten feedback that they would like me to take more initiative and suggest strategic projects. 

Influence over Strategy, Interesting Work – My last job was with a corporation that was 90% male, and the average age was 55 years old.  Given this demographic composition, it’s not surprising that for a young person to suggest ideas, the response was something along the lines of, “Oh you are so young and stupid.  You just don’t know how things work yet.”  So I had come into my current company without even considering the possibility I could contribute strategic ideas.  Looking back on this past three months, I’ve led a strategy and branding workshop, I’m writing a branding strategy guide for my organization, and I’m embarking on a new design thinking project that will analyze our market and assist in product development.  Being at a start-up means you are so much closer to the big picture - whether that means operational work, scaling up an intervention, new product development, or impact analysis.

These are just a few points, and they come from my personal experience.  Other people may have different opinions depending on their day to day lives.  Overall, I believe the key to working well in a startup is taking initiative – use your strategic and analytical knowledge to grow and develop the organization.  At the end of the day, you are a stakeholder in your startup.