When Startups Go Corporate: The good, the bad and the business suits
After working as a toy designer (yes, that’s a real thing) for a year, I decided to go back to freelance writing, which I loved (and still love) for many reasons — namely, the flexible nature of the job, and the ability to get paid for sharing my thoughts and ramblings. One of my biggest clients was an online marketing company, and after producing content for that company for almost a year, I was offered a full-time job.
I was super hesitant to take it at first, but at the time, my husband and I had just bought a house and were thinking of starting a family. I figured having a steady, full-time job was the smart way to go. But what ultimately sold me on accepting the offer was the fact that this company was a startup, and with that came a certain culture that very much mimicked the working style I’d grown accustomed to.
For starters, there was no dress code. I could show up in a sundress and flip flops, and no one would care that my ensemble resembled something you’d wear to a party down at the beach. Additionally, while we were all expected to get our work done, there was a lot of flexibility as to when and where we’d get it done. My manager, for example, took pity on me and my long commute and often allowed me to work from home, knowing she could count on me to get things done no matter what. Other people were often permitted to come in late without repercussion because, like me, they’d established themselves as reliable folks worthy of a little leeway.
When we had meetings, they were laid back and — dare I say — fun. We had team lunches and outings. Everybody was friendly. Most people were happy. The salaries weren’t wonderful, and the benefits even less so, but we got free snacks and unlimited coffee. What could be bad?
Things changed when the company started growing and rumors began flying that we’d eventually try to go public. Those little perks, like flexible scheduling, started to go away. My manager was told not to let me work from home, ever, and while we never reached the point of needing to wear business suits, it became obvious that beachwear was no longer an acceptable form of office attire. While we still got the free snacks and coffee, gone were the days of afternoon brainstorming sessions at the park and in-office happy hours. (Yes, we were once able to drink beer on the job. Yes, it was a wonderful thing.)
Suddenly everything seemed so “official.” Self- and manager-evaluations grew more frequent, and with each came a whole new set of goals and deadlines. What was once a casual, laid-back office environment had rapidly become a place where I, and many of my colleagues, simply didn’t want to work.
These days, I’m back to freelancing, which works a lot better for me on a whole. Now that I have kids, I need my schedule to be reasonably flexible, which is something my company was no longer willing to offer. But more so than that, the vibe in the office just changed, kind of like the way a small child might go from perfectly happy to downright miserable after someone takes away his lollipop. That’s basically what can happen when a startup goes corporate. Consider yourselves warned.