This summer I made a big move. Leaving London (my home for the past 14 years) and Google (my employer for the last 6), I moved up to Scotland to take a job with Swipii, a fintech startup using brand new card linking technology to drive its customer loyalty system.
Working for a company like Google for 6 years, the total compensation package becomes normal. You quickly forget that three catered meals a day, sleep pods and on-site massage therapists aren’t your typical workplace benefits. Neither is spending your workday devoted to a product that measures the daily number of users in the billions. These things can become routine at the biggest tech companies and it can seem like career suicide looking for work outside their hallowed gates.
Leaving the rarefied world of Google has certainly been a bit of a culture shock but not one that was nearly as scary or different as you might imagine. Far from career suicide, I feel that in many ways I am more employable after just 5 months working here. Below is a list of a few things I’ve learned about leaving one of the biggest companies in the world to work in the wonderful world of startups:
- The first thing that I noticed at Swipii is the huge amount of autonomy that I have to effect real change on our products and the company as a whole. At Google I was quickly siloed into my own little world – almost inevitable at a company with a headcount of around 80,000! At Swipii I am deeply involved in all aspects of decision making, from helping the team set quarterly budget, to presenting at board level and designing entire products from the ground up.
- A lot of time at Google is wasted trying to find the right person to talk to. If you can’t exact the impact that you hope to within your own team, it can be extremely hard to get a hold of a relevant contact elsewhere. Even if you are able to you to find the right person, when you do you enter into the wooly world of workplace favours. The problem with favours is that when the deadline looms and it is time to call it in, the initial willingness to help can often evaporate. At Swipii, with its growing team of around 20, everyone is in the same room. It’s amazing how much more you get done when you can turn round to speak with someone and it is usually obvious how helping teammates actually helps you too.
- The other benefit of fitting in a single space is that the team is naturally very close knit. While there were thousands of employees working in just my London office (there are three), the number who I ever spoke with on a casual basis was probably less than 15. At Swipii I know every single person, I didn’t actually realise what that means for team cohesion until I moved here.
- Another benefit of being in a single location is the lack of time zone considerations. At Google 2.30pm was rush hour. It was almost as hardwired into me as the 9am start and 5.30pm finish. That’s because every afternoon at 2.30pm I would get a flood of emails from New York as they arrived for the day. Don’t even get me about being involved with meetings with representatives from Mountain View (8 hours behind), New York (5 hours behind) and Singapore (8 hours ahead)…
- One thing that has remained the same is the share package. Both Google and Swipii employees become part owners through share equity. The numbers might look a bit different (and Swipii shares are not openly tradable) but each employee at Swipii is not only responsible for the company in terms of their contract, they have a financial interest in its development and success through their position as part owners.
While it is certainly true that the whole experience of working at a startup is very different from a large corporate, in my experience it has been nothing like the scare stories I had heard. In joining a business working in an interesting field with a clear vision for its future, I’ve found myself in a job where I have more autonomy, responsibility and personal accountability than I had in my previous role. I’m also involved in helping to define the future direction of the company, through product innovation and through the culture that we are defining. It probably isn’t for everyone but for those looking for a personal and professional challenge, the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Please do get in touch if you’d like to know more.