I'll never work for a big company again

I recently had my 3 year anniversary at CashStar, and it got me thinking about how fast the last 3 years have gone. When I first started at CashStar there were only a handful of people, and we had nothing, and it was great. We had no products, no customers, which might sound bad at first, but we also didn’t have any customer, or production support issues to slow us down. We could go into work and put in 8 really productive hours, and feel good about yourself when you left that day.

Over time, we built our products and signed customers, and slowly over time the company grew to the size we are today, which is around 50 people. I’m no where as productive as I was when we started, I’m lucky if I can sit at my desk for an hour a day. If I need to get anything done I normally do it at night or on the weekend, which means I end up working a ton of hours in order to get the same productivity level I had when we first started.

The funny thing is, even with all of these distractions, I’m still much more productive then I ever was when I worked for a big company. Working for a big company felt like I was walking, working for a startup makes you feel like you are running in comparison.

In my past I have worked for companies that had 10,000, 2,500 and 800 people respectively. Even though they are very different in size, they all felt like a big company. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t think I could ever work for a big company again. Working for a big company has a different feel to it, and you normally have to worry about office politics and other things that you don’t have to worry about in a small company. It can be very painful at times when you want to get something done at a big company and you can’t.

I have worked at a few big companies and I have worked with people at other big companies for a while, and one thing I noticed a while ago, is that there are some really smart people working at big companies and there are also some dumb people who work at big companies. You don’t see many dumb people at small companies, mainly because there is no place to hide. In a small company you need to carry your own weight, and if you don’t it is pretty obvious. In a large company it isn’t as obvious to find the slacker.

I always wondered why the big companies hired the dumb people, and i think I came up with a theory. Basically it boils down to this. When you are a small company you don’t have that much work, so you can get by with less people. When you have less people to hire, you want to make sure you get the best of the best, the top 1%. So you wait until great people come along, and you hire those.

So you only hire great people, and things are going well, and the company grows. Eventually you will get to the point where you now have all the great people in the local area working at your company. You have a choice to make, you can either lower your standards a little or you can start importing people from other areas, which will cost more money. If you are really successful you can afford to import great talent from all over. Most likely you can’t do that, so you lower your standards a little, and you keep growing. As your company gets bigger and bigger eventually you have lowered your standards enough where the occasional dummy will sneak in, and once one dummy gets in, it is all over.

The other side of the coin is that as you get bigger, the company needs to add structure and process to control all of the less then great people, which makes it less fun for the great people, who start to leave the company. Most companies don’t mind at this point because all of the products that the great people have built are already finished, so they just need to be maintained, and they can do that with cheaper (not as smart or experienced) people. The managers in charge of these products look like heros because they saved some money on their budget due to the lower salaries, and they get promoted. It is just a matter of time before the company slows to a crawl and stops being productive.

Now of course what I’m saying is a little over dramatic, and not all big companies are like this, but there is some truth to what I’m saying, and if you ever worked at a big company or with a big company, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that only dummies work in big companies, because if that were true those companies would go out of business very quickly. I know a lot of really smart people who work at big companies, and they are happy.

Now that I say I would never want to work for a big company again, I guess there would need to be a handful of exceptions to the rule. Here is my list of big companies I might want to work for and my reasons. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind if the right company comes along, with the right opportunity.

Amazon - They aren’t just an e-commerce company, they are actually a technology company as well. They have built their own products (kindle) and have their own services (AWS). They are innovators and trend setters and that sounds like a cool company to work for.

Netflix - They revolutionized the movie rental market, and are now the leaders in streaming movies. They handle something around 30% of all internet traffic on a given night, which is unreal. I have also heard they also have great benefits.

Apple - Probably the best product company in the last 100 years. They make cool stuff, that everyone loves. I’m sure they work you hard to get everything perfect, but to be able to say I helped built that new gizmo that someone was using, would be priceless.

ESPN - I love sports, I love everything about them, working at ESPN would be a dream job.

RackSpace - Even though they are hosting company, they are a trend setting hosting company and they are building products as well. They are driving force behind OpenStack, and they have some really cool cloud server products as well. The whole company looks like it would be fun to work at.

I’m sure there are a few more companies that I missed, if I remember I will be sure to update this post. Leave a comment with the big company you wouldn’t mind working for, and why, and see if you can convince me to add it to my list.