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Video: Should you join a startup or a corporate?

Written by Nuskha Semaun on 3 May 2020 for Graduates

Do you want to work for a startup? Are you attracted by the drive, the innovation, the flexibility of a small company on its way to greatness? Or would you rather work for a big company, which has already proven its validity and expertise, where you can enjoy stability and security?

During the Talk of the Minds Gathering in March, we invited four panel members to discuss the differences between startups and corporates. On the startup side we welcomed two successful young women: Jana Cleuren, Exellys alumna and co-founder of POMM., a sparkling apple champagne served at Michelin restaurants, and Charlotte Gréant, who currently calls herself General Manager at Laundry & Love (meaning she is on maternity leave). After two years as General Manager with |, she made the move to Lizy, a digital car leasing startup, where she is leading the sales department.

On the big company side of the panel was Stephane Lahaye, Managing Director BeLux at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Piet Van Der Biest, Head of Power Generation Sales & Projects at Siemens Energy BeLux.

Passion of the startup

The moderator started off the panel discussion with the question whether the panel thought it true that people working for startups are more passionate about their jobs than they would be working at a big company. Stephane Lahaye was fierce in his response: ‘In 1939, HP was a startup. It started in a garage. So for me, this is a silly question. It’s not versus, it’s together, because big companies are a cluster of multiple startups. So for me, there is no difference. And I don’t like your statement,’ he said jokingly. Piet Van Der Biest also didn’t see what one had to do with the other. ‘Being passionate about your job depends on your personality,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it’s a startup thing.’

Positivity as a shared responsibility

So how about employee wellbeing? The moderator asked the panel to discuss on the following statement: The idea of investing in the positivity of employees is often low down on companies’ priority lists. ‘I think this is a shared responsibility of both the employer and the employee,’ Charlotte Gréant said. ‘Of course a company, big or small, needs to do what they can to foster employee happiness and positivity. But it’s also your own responsibility: you have to ask yourself if you’re happy, what makes you happy, or what doesn’t work, and you must always choose your own happiness. That’s why I changed jobs so many times. When I was leading |, I liked it very much. But after two years, my learning curve there had stagnated, and I couldn’t grow any further because I was already at the top. I’m ambitious, and growth is important for my happiness, that’s why I made the switch to Lizy.’

 ‘Exactly, it’s all about the culture,’ Stephane Lahaye agreed. ‘That’s why we say that culture eats strategy for breakfast.’

Charlotte Greant

Two ears, one mouth

Someone in the audience asked the panel an interesting question: what have been the biggest mistakes of their careers? And Stephane Lahaye had an interesting insight about this. ‘Every time I made a mistake, it was because I made an assumption, I didn’t ask enough questions. That’s why now I always say: you have two ears and one mouth: it’s to listen twice as much as you talk.’

Stephane Lahaye

If you’re interested in what the decision-making process looks like in big companies and startups, how big companies balance between raising awareness and selling products, how startups gain traction in an already crowded market, and what they think about office pets, then make sure to watch the full panel talk.

But before you do, we’d like to leave you with the following wisdom by Jana Cleuren. If you’re debating about whether you should start at a scale-up or a big company, stop worrying so much. ‘It’s not a question of where you start,’ she says. ‘It’s a question of where you stay.’

Jana Cleuren

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