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Should an Aspiring Entrepreneur Work for a Big Company After College, or Join a Start-up?

with 4 comments

As graduation day is approaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo I thought it would be a good idea to delve into the question: what should you do after college?

Ben Casnocha, a sucessful young entrepreneur and author, puts this question really well in his blog post

If you’re a recent college graduate who’s entrepreneurially inclined there seem to be two paths:

1. Go work for a big company
2. Go work for a start-up or start a company yourself

The past few weeks I’ve heard both sides of the argument.

If you go work for a big company (Apple, HP, Yahoo, P&G, whoever) you will “learn how to do things right” say some. I actually think you’ll “learn how things get done” at that kind of organization, whether good or bad. The biggest benefit I see, though, has more to do with the number of people you’ll interact with. Go work for a start-up with a few people or start a company yourself and you’re exposed to just a handful of minds on an everyday basis. At a big company you’ll see a range of management styles, methods for running meetings, sales techniques, time management strategies, etc. The main downside for an entrepreneur to working in a big corporation is the bureaucracy may deplete your entrepreneurial instinct. It’s no fun being a cog, but unfortunately, most first jobs in big companies are cog positions.

If you work for a start-up or start a company yourself, you will assume a range of responsibilities and experiences that simply cannot be matched if you’re one of 10,000 employees. You will be involved in every facet of the business, from accounting to marketing to HR. The risk here is that you will fail. Since you’ve never done it before, you probably will fail. The question is how do the lessons from failure in this case compare to the lessons you acquire humming along in a big company.

In the end, it depends on the person, his/her goals, and the opportunity, but I’m more upbeat about the potential good that can come from working in a large corporation for a short period of time than most of my entrepreneur friends.

My personal opinion is you should go start your own startup, or if your don’t have the risk tolerance for that you should go work for a funded startup. When you are just graduating college you are in one of those special periods of your life where you have little personal commitments (no wife, no kids, no mortgage), little to no personal assets to loose, your used to living cheaply, and your around a whole bunch of other students going through the same situation.

Because of these reasons and the unique situation most college graduates face I feel that the amount of learning and sense of responsibility (making real decisions that directly affect the company) you will get out of being involved with a startup greatly surpasses the experience of a large corporation.And even if your startup completely fails you will receive a ton of experience in a very short period of time and if nothing else works out you can always go work for a big corporation.


Written by Chris McCann

March 8, 2009 at 10:03 am

Posted in entrepreneurship

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4 Responses

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  1. If you are fresh off college, I would strongly recommend starting in a big company and then moving to your own startup. The biggest reason is that you build a network and brand name and a stronger resume before branching out on your own. It is also easier to go back to working for a big company later on if your startup does not work out. The idea is work in a big company, keep incubating and perfecting your idea, time the market and jump. Trust me when I say you maybe a top ranker in college but you are still unaware of the real world.


    September 23, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    • I don’t really agree with that. If you’re and entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur and working for a big company is going to depress you and crush your entrepreneurial soul.

      I decided to take the route of working for a very entrepreneurial fast growing company while still developing my startup at night!

      Chris McCann

      September 24, 2009 at 3:38 pm

      • I think if you let a few years at a big company crush your entrepreneurial soul, your really don’t have the tenacity and inner-drive to be a successful start-up founder.

        The brand name that comes with a top company is critical to building buzz and funding to accelerating any start up you may want to start. With this gold plating you can join a high profile funded start-up (who are most likely founded by ex-BIGCOM-er) when you feel you have made the most of your time, or if your idea is already mature, make the big leap during the process.

        Desmond Zhou

        June 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm

  2. How do you learn more quickly: by getting a job after college, or by starting your own business?…

    I think Jesse Pujji is on the right track and want to support his argument. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume we’re talking about a 2-4 year period, right out of school and, when it’s over, you want to be a well-rounded “entrepreneur”. Read…


    February 23, 2011 at 5:16 am

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