The startup life: 4 pros share why they left the corporate world

by Liz Warren
December 5, 2017
Image via Shutterstock

Working for a major corporation has its perks. For one, listing a flashy brand name on your resume can help pave the way for your career. But there are plenty of people leaving the Apples, Facebooks and Twitters of the world for the startup life — and there’s a reason for that. We caught up with four ex-corporate types who shared with Built In NYC exactly why they made the switch.


Mamadou Diao
Lead data scientist

“Bidder-as-a-service” platform Beeswax gives marketers the ability to bid for ad inventory in real-time. The company was founded by a group of former Google employees and attracts team members from other big names. Lead data scientist Mamadou Diao, who came to Beeswax from Facebook, explained why he made the move. 


What were you doing prior to Beeswax?

I was a principal of auction and delivery science at Facebook, working on ways to improve the machine learning models that power optimization in online advertising auctions.


What made you catch the startup bug?

As a data scientist, I saw joining Beeswax as a rare opportunity to be an integral part of a team that was in the early stages of transforming an industry through a modern machine learning-driven product. You rarely get that chance in larger, more established companies unless you are an early employee. Plus, having two young kids at home, the added flexibility of a startup is great.


What’s the biggest difference between working at a major corporation and working at a startup?

Larger organizations have some grand amenities, but I'll take being passionate about my job over that any day. Working at a startup often requires being scrappy. It's not uncommon to wear multiple hats and — within a single day — spend time on a variety of projects, such as prototyping a machine-learning model, fixing a broken ETL pipeline or evaluating the latest AI open source frameworks to build our next optimization technologies. With that comes a greater sense of ownership and the thrill of building products that have a direct impact on our business.


David Koppelman
Senior security engineer

Senior security engineer David Koppelman was working at a multinational bank for eight years before joining the team at Venmo, an app that makes it easier to make and share payments. He explained to us what made him leave it all for the startup life.


What were you doing prior to Venmo?

I was working on the security team at a large multinational bank, where I ended up working in a variety of positions for almost eight years.


What made you catch the startup bug?

For a long time, I felt that my experience in security was too specialized for startups, so I didn't even bother exploring opportunities. However, as the field of security grew and the need became more obvious to companies across the whole maturity spectrum, I realized there might be a place for me within a startup after all. So, I started poking around and seeing what that might look like.


What’s the biggest difference between working at a major corporation and working at a startup?

At a large company, things are slow to change and there’s a lot of paperwork required to make small improvements. I've come to find that startups provide a totally different perspective. You never have enough resources to do everything you want, but everything you actually do makes a real difference. Sometimes processes don’t yet exist, to the point where you're building the process as you go. And instead of being isolated from the hands-on work in a more abstract role, or isolated from the “bigger picture" in a highly specialized role, you have the chance to both do the work and witness the results — and it feels good.


Molsi Varghese
Senior QA engineer

Senior QA engineer Molsi Varghese left her job at NetApp to pursue the same role at Turbonomic, a hybrid cloud management platform. While her job title didn’t change, her responsibilities and opportunities did. She explained to us just how different it’s been since joining a startup.


What were you doing prior to Turbonomic?

I was a senior QA engineer at NetApp, where I was responsible for testing the functionality and performance of a major storage appliance.


What made you catch the startup bug?

Being part of a big corporation was great as a newbie. However, I wanted to be part of a young company that could be the next big thing. Smaller companies always yield the most amount of learning, provided you put in the work. Apart from building your skills, you also meet a lot more people. There are fewer boundaries and processes to get things done — and to make a difference.


What’s the biggest difference between working at a major corporation and working at a startup?

The ability to meet and work with everybody — from the most senior leader to the most junior team member, who works on developing the product.


Bradley Scott

Bradley Scott was a senior director at S&P Global before leaving to start Etch, a mobile app that lets users easily save and share their favorite local places. We caught up with him on why he downsized from a company with 17,000 employees to a startup with three team members.


What were you doing prior to Etch?

I was a senior director and head of product for S&P Global, where I was responsible for product and go-to-market strategy for the tools and services we sold to public and private corporations globally.


What made you catch the startup bug?

I’d known for a while that working in a massive corporate setting wasn’t for me, but going from an environment with 17,000 employees to three was a pretty drastic change. To make that kind of transition, it was going to have to be an idea and vision I truly believed in — so when my co-founder and I came up with the idea for Etch, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to take a shot on our own. It was an idea we were passionate about, and for which we’d be willing to make major sacrifices. Startup life is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s easily been the most rewarding (and fun) thing I’ve done in my career so far.

What’s the biggest difference between working at a major corporation and working at a startup?
Too many to count, but the most exhilarating difference for me is that, in a startup, your entire strategy (or even your company) can change in a matter of minutes if the inspiration hits.


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