7 Key Differences and Who Thrives at Each


  • Dennis Falk quit a corporate career to become head of marketing at a startup.
  • After 2 1/2 years, he has just returned to another major firm.
  • He told Insider the key differences between working in a startup and a big company.

This is an edited, translated version of an article that originally appeared on March 30, 2022.

Dennis Falk was the head of digital marketing at the German supermarket Lidl, where he led a growing team and was set to continue 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 the influencer Saliha “Sally” Özcan, whose cooking channel now has more than 2 million subscribers and nearly 600 million views.

Sallys Shop has built a small shopping empire, selling cooking and baking utensils, dishes, baking ingredients, kitchen machines, and also rugs, pillows, and children’s fashionwear. 

Falk’s job was to help expand the brand, both online and offline, getting its products into more stores and growing its digital presence. 

But after 2 1/2 years, Falk decided to move back to a big company and just started as head of international social media at Deichmann, a major European footwear retailer.

He told Insider the biggest differences between working for a startup and a big company and what type of person suits each environment.

1. Startups are fast-paced

“I was impressed by the pace at which Sally’s company had developed,” Falk said.

He added that it wasn’t easy to make the switch but that the speed encouraged him to do it. “I thought, this is getting faster and faster now. If I don’t jump on now, I’ll miss out,” he said.

Job opportunities in growth-stage startups are often one-time and on short notice, he added.

2. They care less about titles or corporate structure

At Lidl, Falk always had specific job titles — including head of digital marketing by the end.

Often, growing startups don’t have business and salary structures that make such titles meaningful, he added, stressing that this can also be a point of principle in startups, with some deliberately maintaining flat hierarchies.

3. Startups suit people who like to be jacks of all trades

Growing startups also often lack helping hands. At Sallys, Falk took on a lot more tasks than a head of marketing would have at Lidl.

These included setting up all the digital systems and process optimization. Going above and beyond your duties is part of the job at startups, he added.

4. And people who enjoy improvising and building from scratch

“In the first few days, I kept thinking, Oh God, what have I done?” Falk said about his initial shock at the lack of structure. 

“Everything was done via WhatsApp. Layout approvals, collaboration requests, and so on,” he added. 

“In retrospect, I actually think that’s OK. It was appropriate for the phase at the time. It was dynamic.”

At the same time, it was a challenge when it came to tracking tasks, for example. “Make it quick” is easy to send as a voice message, but it’s almost impossible to stop that from getting lost in the endless chat flow. 

5. Big companies suit people who know what they do best

“I’m looking forward to being able to focus 100% on a specific area,” Falk said of his new job. For him, that’s social media.

Well-equipped and structured departments at large companies suit employees who want to focus on their strongest areas, he said.

6. And people who enjoy planning 

Larger businesses plan more meticulously and are slower to make decisions, Falk said.

“I had to have a lot of discussions in the startup about what steps we could take and what steps we couldn’t take yet,” he said. “Those struggles were part of it. The foundation has to dry before you can build on it.”

7. At a big company, you have to be willing to learn from startups

Despite finding startup life exhausting at times, Falk said there were two things he appreciated there, and he wants to take these lessons into his new job.

“In everything we did in marketing at Sallys Welt, the focus was on the customer, never on sales figures,” he said, adding that a happy customer base makes sales figures rise more or less automatically.

“I’ve also enjoyed the freedom of simply being able to try something out straight away,” Falk added.

As an example, he added that, if a big company wants to change something in its online checkout process, it has to go through IT and security first. At the startup, Falk said, he could simply go live with the change and test what happened.

“After all, sometimes it can work right off the bat,” he said.


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Ellen C. McGowan

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