Startup vs. MNC: What’s best for you?

Startup vs. MNC: What’s right for you?

startup vs. MNC ExpressVPN Venn diagram

Looking for a new role and wondering what's right for you, a startup or an MNC? When you think of startups, you probably imagine a group of inspired young people working through the night in someone’s garage, hoping to build the next unicorn. But startups exist at many stages, and if you’re contemplating joining one, you’ll want to know which stage it’s at before you make your decision.

Meanwhile, multinational corporations (MNCs) sometimes get a bad rap as soulless corporate entities. But occasionally, you’ll find one that can offer the perks and culture of a startup, combined with the security, career growth, resources, and other opportunities that come with a well-established company.

The ExpressVPN story

ExpressVPN has been through all the stages of a startup, from two technology entrepreneurs working together remotely in 2009, to ExpressVPN joining Kape Technologies in 2021 to become a publicly listed company. But our founders are still very involved in the day-to-day running of ExpressVPN, and despite our growth, our culture hasn’t changed much.

Employees at a meeting.

Working at a startup can be incredibly empowering, in large part because of the ability to influence the product and the direction of the company. Our vice president of engineering, David Varvel, says that “ExpressVPN is one of the rare companies that’s kept a startup spirit, even though we now have millions of users and hundreds of employees. After all that growth, everyone at the company is still empowered to have an idea, ship it quickly, and make a huge impact.”

Read on to learn how ExpressVPN hits the unique sweet spot between startup and MNC with its dynamic and fast-paced culture, industry-leading tech, and established infrastructure. We offer the best of both worlds!

What are the stages of a startup?

If you’re considering joining a startup, understanding which stage it’s at is crucial to making an informed decision. For example, if you’re looking for stability and a clear career path, joining an early-stage startup may not be a good move. Want to roll up your sleeves and get creative, can handle unpredictable days, and like wearing multiple hats simultaneously? You’ll probably thrive in this environment and learn a lot in the process.

early stage startup thumbnail paper planes flying up

Early-stage startup

Funding is likely coming from angel investors at this point, so the salary will probably be low, but you should be able to secure stock options as part of your contract when you join. For the most part, you’ll need to take charge of your career growth and goals.

Growth stage startup graph outline

Growth-stage startup

A startup at this stage has secured Series A funding and is likely doing more fundraising with VCs and private equity firms. Since the company should be profitable at this point, salaries will be better, but you may not receive such good options when you join.

late stage startup thumbnail bar graph upwards

Late-stage startup

At this point, a startup is generally fully staffed, experiencing growth, and is probably looking at expansion or exit strategies. Expect reasonable salaries, but options won’t necessarily be part of the package—it’s a bit late in the game for that.

Pros and cons of startups

Pros

  • Employee share options (ESOP)
  • The ability to stretch yourself trying out new roles
  • The opportunity to apply your previous experience and knowledge to something new
  • Tight-knit sense of teamwork and camaraderie with co-workers
  • Flexible workspaces and hours
  • Being part of something from the beginning

Cons

  • Lower salaries than MNCs
  • Lack of defined roles and career paths
  • Skill development may not be a priority and can fall by the wayside
  • Small teams and lack of infrastructure like IT, finance, and HR
  • Limited sick and holiday leave
  • Long-term commitment if you hope to see your options become profitable
joy quote thumbnail
Joy, senior software engineer

Plenty of ExpressVPN employees have worked at startups previously. While many of them enjoyed their time and learned a lot, there was a common theme, especially for those who joined early-stage startups:

"I experienced huge growth in my career in terms of skills and knowledge as there were so many opportunities to work on challenges beyond my official role," explains Joy, a senior software engineer. "As a result, I became one of the most dependable people in the company, but the challenge was the lack of a succession plan. It was tough to leave because I was so essential to the structure of the company—it felt like I was the single point of failure."

Pros and cons of MNCs

MNCs—and particularly tech companies—are generally considered some of the best places to work. From being ahead of the game when it comes to flexibility, perks, and teaming to working on products that have an impact on the daily life of millions of people around the world, tech MNCs are high on the job wishlist for many job seekers.

Pros

  • The ability to focus on improving skills thanks to L&D programs and mentorship
  • Potential to work across global offices
  • A well-defined career path
  • Competitive salaries and benefits like health insurance and unlimited sick days
  • Good work-life balance
  • Established infrastructure like IT support, finance, and HR

Cons

  • Varying manager quality
  • Layers of bureaucracy
  • Less say in the overall direction of the company
  • Less chance of company stock options
  • Less flexibility with WFH and working hours
  • Less flexibility when it comes to flexing different skills and trying new roles
SY quote
ShyhYueh, chief of staff

One of the most common things we hear from employees who have moved from a corporate MNC to ExpressVPN is how quickly we move. ShyhYueh, our chief of staff, spent a decade at large multinational banks and has been amazed at how agile ExpressVPN is at making business decisions. “The company values experimentation, constant and incremental progression, and good working relationships over traditional long-term planning and execution cycles,” he explains.

“You want to do something new or differently? Go ahead and create a quick and dirty prototype. Show it to your colleagues, and everyone will jump in to contribute with their comments and suggestions. Within weeks, you’ll have a minimum viable product (MVP). How’s that for speed?”

Is ExpressVPN a startup or MNC?

Our culture: Startup

We don’t have a culture of this is how things are done, and that’s set in stone. There’s always the opportunity to change software and processes, bring ideas to the table, lead projects, and innovate.

“In the Engineering Department, we are aiming for tightly aligned but loosely coupled teams,” explains Director of Engineering Chris Knowles. “Ideally, each team has traits from what you might typically see in a whole company. So the tech lead of a team is like a CTO of sorts, which leads to plenty of opportunities for senior employees to take ownership or specialize in a specific area.”

industry status resourcing icons

Resourcing: MNC

Thanks to our well-established HR, Finance, and IT Teams, you’ll find plenty of support within the company—no one is expected to wear hats across multiple departments! We have both office-based and remote roles in numerous countries, competitive salaries, and plenty of opportunities for L&D.

Growth path grid showing pathways to people manager, IC, or new role.

Career growth: Startup and MNC

We have well-defined growth paths and a robust HR infrastructure—including a dedicated Learning & Development lead— so you’ll never feel confused about what we expect from you or how you can advance your career. But we don’t want you to feel stuck; if you want to explore a different role or switch between IC and people management, we want to help you make that happen.

Kowshik, one of our senior software engineers, explains, “The biggest difference to me is that ExpressVPN offers a lot more clarity when it comes to role definition and being flexible to expand or modify the role to best suit my career goals. The role definition often wasn't clear at the startups I’ve worked at, which led to misunderstandings.”

industry status trophy

Industry status: MNC

We’re proud of our position in the industry and empowered by the platform that gives us, from developing our own custom VPN protocol and the independent audit by PwC to being the first VPN company to pull our servers out of India.

Ping zhu illustration for changing locations.

Startup or MNC? It's all about you

It all comes down to finding the right fit for you—from career growth and the peers you’ll work with, to tech stacks and innovation. At ExpressVPN, we think we offer the best of both worlds, with the status and resourcing that comes from an MNC, and the mindset, culture, and flexibility of a growth or late-stage startup. If you think ExpressVPN is the kind of workplace you’re looking for, check out our job openings and get in touch to see if there’s a fit. We’d love to hear from you.