by Marta Egídio Pereira, co-founder at Ungap Year
What’s the difference between a startup and a small business?
Why is Uber Eats a startup, but the restaurant around the corner with delivery service isn’t?
Simple: the growth potential – or, in startupian jargon, the scalability. A startup is, from its inception, designed to scale as much and as fast as possible. Unlike a small business, which prioritizes profit and stability, a startup has as its main success metric its growth rate – often at the expense of profit in the short and medium term, as is the case of Uber and Spotify who, despite having billion-dollar valuations, are still not profitable.
I start with the distinction between a startup and a small business because it is crucial to understand the challenges and opportunities that each type of organization brings. It is startups’ relentless focus on fast and efficient growth that makes them such unique places to work at and, perhaps most importantly, to learn at.
In my opinion and based on my own experiences in different types of organizations, these are the 4 aspects that make startups the best place to start your career:
“A big company is good to learn processes, [because] you are part of a big machine. But when you go to a small company, you learn the passion, you learn the dreams. You learn to do a lot of things at the same time.”
– Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and China’s richest man
Because of its dimensions and lean structure, essentials for growth, all the resources in a startup are optimized and reduced to the extremely necessary. With limited resources, especially the human, their versatility becomes paramount.
In a startup, you are expected to be flexible and polyvalent, able to wear many hats at once and to adapt to whatever is most needed in each moment. It becomes essential for each and every person to have a complete and transversal vision of the business, something that is much harder to achieve in a big corporation, where specialization and departmentation are commonplace.
As a result, working in a startup will turn you into a completer and more versatile professional, and the job itself less repetitive and boring.
Responsibility in a startup
In a startup, small teams and a culture of trial and error demand high ownership and accountability of each employee. Everyone needs to be accountable for his own results and independent in the implementation of their action plan.
Typically, the responsibility given to a young hire in a startup is much higher than in a big corporation – because there is less at stake, higher propensity for risk… and because if you don’t get it done, no one else will.
And, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.
And, may I add, with great responsibility comes great learning.
In a startup, everything is fast: the expansion of the team, career ascension, strategy chances… Everything is simpler and more agile. Decisions have less levels of approval, products are constantly in iteration, metrics are continually reviewed and updated.
And why is this good? Because it mimics the market. The world is in permanent evolution and change, technology is advancing at exponential speed, and those who can’t keep up, are left behind, as Darwin warned so long ago.
“Go to a small company.” is Jack Ma’s advice to young talent. “Before 30, it’s not about which company you go, it’s about which boss you follow”.
If you join a multinational company straight out of university, odds are you won’t have a conversation with the CEO, even after a couple of years working with her. You might not even get the chance to see her in real life, as you will probably be more than 3 hierarchic levels apart and a considerable geographic distance.
In a startup, on the other hand, the CEO will most likely sit in the same room as you. You’ll probably have lunch together at least once a month, and exchange ideas in weekly all-hands meetings. The laid back and horizontal culture of startups, as well as open space work environments, fosters proximity and knowledge exchange and allow for everyone to know you by your first name, not your job role.
To sum up, I believe startups are the best place to start an exciting and challenging career, as they are the places where you’ll learn the most, the fastest.
It is based on this belief that we are creating Ungap Year, an 8-month last-mile training program that will allow you to get hands-on experiences in 2 growth startups in 2 different European cities, on top of training in entrepreneurial skills and a guided personal development journey.
Learn more at www.ungapyear.com or reach out to me at