As a recruiter, I get asked this question a lot, and it is a question that is on the lips of people across many industries at the moment.
Should I work in a Big Data start-up or a more established Big Data vendor?
I usually end up answering their question with a string of questions of my own to help them narrow down their priorities, and I thought that it might be useful to explore some of the considerations. They are actually valid for most industry sectors:
Product. In a start-up, the product has to be compelling enough to make it the whole 12 rounds. Is it sexy? Is it cool? Will it change the world? If you are not salivating at the potential, then you can be sure that customers will be lukewarm. In an established vendor, the product will be proven and tested, but it will also be unlikely to change significantly. If you want to go on a rollercoaster of creativity, a start-up is for you. If you are more interested in expanding an existing market, you should stick with the big boys.
Leadership. Start-ups offer opportunities for personal growth, but you have to ensure that the leadership team are able to sell themselves and the company. In a start-up, your future salary may depend on securing rounds of funding, so if the founders are less than convincing, best to steer clear. In a more established vendor, it is important to understand their growth ambitions. Success will create career opportunities, a more steady path could mean stagnation. In both cases, ideally your boss should be more technically talented than you – otherwise, how will you learn?
Team. It isn’t hard to research the cultures of existing vendors – some are highly structured, some are more entrepreneurial, some are growth-orientated and some are niche players. The type of business will define the type of people that work there – make sure that it is a good fit for you. Start-ups, on the other hand, tend to attract a broader range of personalities and can make for a more “interesting” experience. Some people thrive on that additional personal challenge, others simply want to be able to get on with their work.
Process. If you are a stickler for process, then the start-up experience probably isn’t for you. It goes without saying that creativity is hampered by boundaries, so take a long hard look at how you prefer to work. If, on the other hand, you are used to collaborating in a more organized and regimented way, the bigger players will certainly be the better choice.
Risk. Big Data is a new industry. Not a lot of C-Level decision makers understand it. Lots of not very competent people are fighting for their piece of the pie. Unless you have the risk appetite of a tightrope walker or a lion tamer, working in a company with an established client base would be the safer call. Then again, the potential rewards in a start-up could be that much greater.
We recruit for both types of clients at the moment. Candidates with all sorts of experience are going down both routes.
As you can tell by this not very Big Data oriented article, actually, the question of whether someone should join a start-up or an established firm is very much one of personality rather than skillset.
Personally, I’d explore the start-up route first, but that’s just me.