Is there really a difference between a start up culture and that of an established company?

“Although perks can definitely be considered a bonus, they are not the answer to creating or enhancing your company’s culture.”

Quite often, start-ups launch with a range of perks for their staff, but is what employees want at a start up really that different to an established company? Share your start-up adventures and what you’ve tried with your employees below.

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I joined my current employer nearly 9 years ago when there were less than 150 employees. There are now over 400. I have an anecdotal answer from that experience.

The most significant shift in the culture over that time had nothing to do with perks. It’s the gradual creep of things like patterns, presumptions, tech debt and standardization. It’s a shift from “let’s try it,” to “please justify your plan before we risk what we have.” In Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It, the authors summarize all that stuff as “sludge.”

Sludge has changed the culture and my daily experience more than anything else. It’s not necessarily bad. It’s just different. Our company has evolved from frequent, energizing, fingers-crossed all-nighters to a lot more stability and predictability.

I think, ideally, we’d like to benefit from the stability we’ve earned while also having access to the energy and creativity that’s more readily available when you’re small. That’s the aspiration of my company and many others. While we may all agree that attaining that balance is the best option, each daily choice is more easily justified (and trusted, and unchallenged) if it maintains our status quo and employs our proven winning strategies, not diverge from them. That’s “gradual creep.”

I don’t think there has to be a difference between a start up culture and an established company, but it takes a special kind of focus and boldness to stop what is simply human nature.


I’ve worked at a huge 100,000k+ organization, a 5k organization, and now a start-up. There is certainly a difference in culture as it relates to just sheer size of organizations, teams/structure, and how work gets done. That being said, when I was on a smaller team at a much larger organization, that team had several norms that were reflective of a “start-up culture.” There was often a point, though, where those team-specific norms would create friction with the org-wide norms. I’d encourage most people to try working in both types of environments, as I think it’s added a lot of depth to my understanding of how organizations work.