- Dennis Falk left a corporate career to become a marketing manager at a startup.
- After 2 and a half years, he has just returned to another large company.
- He explained to Insider the main differences between working in a startup and in a large company.
This is an edited and translated version of an article originally published March 30, 2022.
Dennis Falk was head of digital marketing at German supermarket Lidl, where he led a growing team and needed to keep climbing the corporate ladder. But two years ago, he made the decision to quit and join a startup.
He joined Sallys Shop GmbH, the company run by influencer Saliha “Sally” Özcan, whose cooking channel now has over 2 million subscribers and nearly 600 million views.
Sallys Shop has built a small business empire, selling kitchen and baking utensils, tableware, baking ingredients, kitchen machines, as well as rugs, pillows and children’s fashion clothes.
Falk’s job was to help grow the brand, both online and offline, bring its products to more stores and grow its digital presence.
But after 2 and a half years, Falk decided to return to a big business and has just started as an international social media manager at Deichmann, a major European shoe retailer.
He told Insider the biggest differences between working for a startup and a big company and what kind of person suits each environment.
1. Startups move fast
“I was impressed with the rate at which Sally’s business had grown,” Falk said.
He added that it was not easy to make the switch but the speed encouraged him to do so. “I thought it was going faster and faster now. If I don’t jump now, I’m going to miss,” he said.
Job opportunities in growth-stage startups are often ad hoc and on short notice, he added.
2. They care less about titles or company structure
At Lidl, Falk has always had specific job titles – including digital marketing manager at the end.
Growing startups often lack the business and salary structures that make those titles meaningful, he added, noting that this can also be a point of principle in startups, with some deliberately maintaining flat hierarchies.
3. Startups are suitable for people who like to be jack-of-all-trades
Growing startups also often lack helping hands. At Sallys, Falk took on many more tasks than a marketing manager at Lidl.
These included setting up all digital systems and optimizing processes. Going above and beyond is part of the job of startups, he added.
4. And people who like to improvise and build from scratch
“The first few days, I kept thinking, Oh my God, what have I done?” Falk spoke of his initial shock at the lack of structure.
“Everything was done through WhatsApp. Layout approvals, collaboration requests, etc.,” he added.
“In retrospect, I actually think it’s OK. It was appropriate for the phase at the time. It was dynamic.”
At the same time, it was a challenge for task tracking, for example. “Hurry up” is easy to send as a voice message, but it’s nearly impossible to keep from getting lost in the endless chat stream.
5. Great companies are for people who know what they do best
“I’m looking forward to being able to focus 100% on one specific area,” Falk said of his new job. For him, it’s social media.
Well-equipped and structured departments in larger companies suit employees who want to focus on their strongest areas, he said.
6. And people who like to plan
Big companies plan more meticulously and are slower to make decisions, Falk said.
“I must have had many discussions within the startup about what steps we could take and what steps we couldn’t take yet,” he said. “These struggles were part of it. The foundation has to dry out before you can build on it.”
7. In a large company, you have to be ready to learn from startups
Although he sometimes finds the startup life exhausting, Falk said there were two things he enjoyed there and wanted to incorporate those lessons into his new job.
“In everything we did in marketing at Sallys Welt, the focus was on the customer, never on the sales numbers,” he said, adding that happy customers drive sales numbers higher. or less automatically.
“I also liked the freedom of just being able to try something right away,” Falk added.
As an example, he added that if a large company wants to change something in their online payment process, they have to go through IT and security first. On startup, Falk said, he could just go live with the change and test what happened.
“After all, sometimes it can work right off the bat,” he said.