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3 Lessons I Learned From The Corporate World (And Why I Won’t Do Them At My Startup)

Tero Isokauppila

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Corporate office workers busy

Processes, protocol, and even day-to-day operations at big companies bear little resemblance to startup life.


At startups, change is the only constant.

This is a big part of what defines startup culture and makes working at a startup so vastly different from working at an established company. 

But the differences don’t stop there. Processes, protocol, and even day-to-day operations at big companies bear little resemblance to startup life. And, having worked at several such corporations, I know big companies don’t always get it right. 

That’s why, when I launched Four Sigmatic, a wellness company, I drew from my corporate experience in a few different ways. Most notably, though, I learned what I didn’t want to do at my startup. 

Here are three lessons I learned in “what not to do” from my suit-and-tie days: 

1. Constant (and unnecessary) communication. 

Communication at corporations can be messy simply because of how many people (dozens or hundreds or more) are involved in any given project. 

Working at a corporation, you’re always carefully crafting long emails (usually with office politics in mind), and CC’ing everyone and their uncle. And when emails aren’t well-structured, are poorly thought out, or don’t hit all necessary points, it’s a major time suck.

If I had my way, I’d never use email.

Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. But I have managed to do away with internal email at our company in favor of an all-Slack approach. For important internal communications, I prefer direct messages or in-person meetings. Today, I only use email externally—mostly to receive newsletters from those I admire, and to contact certain partners. 

It’s not perfect, but I find Slack to be a much better way to communicate with my team—and to disconnect when I’m in deep work mode.  I can set my status to “away,” mute notifications, create different private channels, etc. 

Keeping communication as lean and focused as possible—especially by limiting emails—is a smart way to make your communication process more efficient.   

2. Massive meetings that kill productivity.

Corporations are slow, lumbering, and bureaucratic. Everyone has to be involved in everything—even when there’s no real need. 

The average corporate meeting includes far too many people. Non-decision-makers are typically unengaged and uninterested during meetings and would be better off allowed to, you know, get work done instead. 

And the average meeting is typically much longer than needed. Because when you block out an hour window for a meeting, you use the full hour—even when you could just as easily have thrown together a quick, 10-minute chat to cover all your bases. 

So instead of getting bogged down in the endless black hole of corporate meetings, try fewer, shorter ones. Consider who really needs to be there. Then sit back and see how much time you save and how much more work gets done. 

3. Nine to five doesn’t work for everyone. 

Not everyone is most productive when working traditional 9-5 hours. 

Some of us are early risers who’d like to be able to start working at 6 a.m. Others are evening people. Some of us can crank out project after project into the wee hours of the morning—and sometimes you eat too much pasta at lunch and need a pasta siesta. 

The truth is, the whole clock in, clock out arrangement typical in corporate settings limits your team’s productivity in a big way.

Of course, there are exceptions where working set hours is necessary, like in customer service and retail. But when you consider that few work items are actually time sensitive, you realize a majority of corporate, knowledge-based workers should be able to do their work whenever makes the most sense for them. 

More and more startups (including us) are realizing this, and are offering more flexible hours and remote work opportunities.

If I’ve learned anything in corporate life, it’s that startup life is better. Or, at least, can be better if you take advantage of the opportunity to work and communicate nimbly. As corporations largely stick to traditional ways of doing things—from communication to meetings to set work hours—startup leaders should always be thinking about how to do things just a little bit differently.   

Here are a few other related articles you might find helpful:

Founders, Don’t Let These 3 Common Startup Crises Sink Your Company

4 Major Fundraising Mistakes First-Time Entrepreneurs Make (And How To Avoid Them)

Founders, Forget About The Trendy Office Perks. Here’s What Really Makes A Workplace Cool

Founder of Four Sigmatic, and forever funguy. Born in Finland, lived in eight countries in three continents, & currently reside in sunny Southern California.

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