Why, oh why? Because solving the big problems (space, time, money), and taking the big risks, is more deeply fulfilling.
I used to have a big corner office, complete with a nice living room set-up across from my desk. Heck, even my assistant had a nice office. When I gave that up for the start-up life years ago, my former colleagues in corporate America were incredulous, "Why the hell would you want to work at a start-up?" was a typical response. If you're still fantasizing about making the leap from corporate job to start-up, here's why I chose the path I did, and some of what I've learned in the process
My former colleagues assumed that I'd achieved the goals I aspired to, because I had an impressive title, a big staff, and a marketing budget big enough that the head of Google Advertising would return my calls. They were wrong. While I was happy to be mentoring some great folks and working with outstanding peers, I was miserable day-to-day. I spent virtually all my time in meetings and roughly half of those arguing for resources and negotiating budgets. One year, we did so many rounds of budget revisions that I'd joke with my staff that we were eventually going to be cutting the numbers based on the signs of the Zodiac.
I came to recognize that I was most satisfied with my work life when I was part of a small team, overcoming some ridiculous constraints (time, space, or the like) to produce something new and valuable. And if those were my true motivators, then corporate America was not likely to be the best place for me. I had worked in smaller companies before, and realized that was where I should be.
I joined a 10-person Silicon Valley start-up, and gave up the perks and the staff I'd been used to. I even worked alone for the first four months. But I got back the energy and excitement and sense of accomplishment that only comes from working on a product you're passionate about, with people who feel the same way. The hours were longer, and the outcomes completely uncertain. But at the end of every workday, I could point to specific decisions I'd made or work I'd personally done that made an impact on the business.
For me, the challenge of creating a truly new product and the knowledge that I was one of a handful of people that were going to be personally responsible for that product's success or failure meant more to me than the opportunity to contribute to a large, existing business—or the certainty of a great paycheck.
Not everyone has that flexibility and risk tolerance. But in my experience, many more people do than take advantage of it. And that's a loss for them and the businesses they could be creating.