Saturday, July 12, 2014

Big companies vs. start-ups

I have a job again. In case anyone was concerned about me.

The company is a start-up. Start-up is code for "make less money than you ever thought possible while suffering from the delusion that you might get rich." In other words, it's a microcosm of life.

I worked at a start-up in the past and hated it. I also worked at several large companies. I hated them too. So there is a clear pattern.

But I have some additional observations.

1. Executives at big companies whose businesses are slowly being destroyed by the Internet have a fetish for start-ups. They try to emulate them by creating open work areas, wearing jeans, and loudly dropping buzzwords like "agile" and "lean."

But their businesses continue to decline because--Eureka--configuring desks a certain way or dressing a certain way generally has limited impact on the dynamics of a business. You either have a good business model or you don't.

Warren Buffett, for example, seems to do just fine with an old, fuddy-duddy office.

2. People who work at start-ups enjoy being the cool kids. They have great disdain for big companies that focus on crass things like monetization and "just don't get it." Their future is generally dependent on being acquired by a big company.

Irony alert.

3. There's a saying--perhaps I'm the one who said it--that the only thing as dysfunctional as a large company is a small company. But big companies have a unique brand of dysfunction.

My previous company loved to tout its analytics-driven, assembly-line-type efficiency. At the center of the process was a complex, behemoth tech platform that became obsolete a few months after it was implemented a decade ago. But it cost so much to implement that it couldn't be changed. Why? That wouldn't be efficient.

When I left it was being replaced by yet another behemoth, multi-million-dollar platform that was equally complex. Implementation was into Year 2 and proceeding slowly.

In my first week at my new company, our tech team determined that part of our current platform was obsolete. So they re-built it. In two days. It's amazing how much you can get done when you're not burdened with "efficiency."

So I suppose I'm tipping my hand a bit about where I prefer to be.

Well, actually, I'd prefer to make a million dollars a year writing picture books on my laptop while watching toddlers play in the fountains at the water terrace.

But until then...

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