It was very easy for me - I have never been the very corporate guy and as I do not need a comfortable and easy lifestyle, I could join a startup on the expenses of my leisure time.
The main differences between working at a startup and working for a corporation are the following:
In a corporation, work is generated reactively. Problems are created by you clients or managers and your job is to solve them. You have certain targets and objectives which you need to complete. At a startup, however, a proactive work attitude is crucial. You have to generate problems by yourself. If you do not start any initiative, you will not have any work to do. And there are not as many people micro-managing you and giving you input. Having no tasks is relaxing once in a while - but that is not the idea.
Even if you are managing budgets in the millions at a corporation, you could far more easily destroy the company with your mistakes or boost it with your initiatives at a startup.
Similar to the impact, the area of responsibility is unimaginabily higher at a startup than at any corporate environment. At a corporation, you receive a certain product or role which you care for. At a startup, you need to be extremely flexible. Especially during the early stage, you must be hands-on and take over tasks you have never done in your life. Coder? What about cold calling partners. Sales guy? What about creating a product design draft? Flexbility and willingness to adjust yourself is key.
You rely much more on each other. At a corporation, you always see people trying to take credit for other peoples’ work or trying to sell only themselves. At a startup, the common goal is to create value for the company and for your clients. Whether you do it on your own or in a team - no one cares. If the team fails, you fail.
I found it far easier at a corporation to let go of my work during my free time. In the end, the company would be exactly the same without me. People are easy to substitute. At a startup, every vacation has a direct impact on the performance of the company. This affects your personal life substantially. Be prepared for many sleepless nights.
Whether you prefer a startup or a corporate environment depends highly on your personality and preferences. Sometimes - as it was for me - it is better to discover both alternatives before settling for a specific company size.
If you want to know more details about the main differences between startups and corporations, look at the graphic below: