Working for Startups vs. SMEs

Working for Startups vs. SMEs. Three aspects of any career change. Startup’s pros and cons. SMEs pros and cons.
Tool for career change evaluation.
  • Should you work for a Startup or SME?
  • Startups versus small businesses. Startups vs. SMEs definition.
  • Three aspects of any career change. 
  • Startup’s pros and cons.
  • SMEs pros and cons.
  • Tool for career change evaluation .

Entering a new year, many people are rethinking their career choices and evaluating a change of job—which industry, what sized company to choose, are they ready to pivot from their current profession? Would they even think about joining a Startup or SME?

If you are at this point, these insights may help you with your decision-making. 

Before we look into differences between Startups and SMEs — how they impact the world, and what kind of organizational culture you may discover working for one, think honestly about what it is you want to change in your career. Is it your job title, industry, or location? If you want to change this trio all at once, be prepared that it could take 6-12 months, regardless of seniority. 

  1. Startups and SMEs and changing a profession 

Online education and repurposing your old skills is a way forward if you are not satisfied with what you do. Glassdoor provides an overview of salaries, and LinkedIn can show you what jobs are in demand. Then all it takes is to start reskilling and practicing. We founded Remote Skills Academy for this purpose two years ago, and more than 1000 people have restarted their careers. Staying in the same or similar industry may be a bridge to a new career chapter rather than starting from scratch in an entirely new field.

  1. Moving to Startup or SME or another Industry 

Changing industries may be fine if you are a solid professional. I have changed industries five times, enjoying it every time, and have benefited greatly. Industries have nuances and rules, but if you move from logistics to sustainability, you may still be a logistics manager. You will undoubtedly be expected to educate yourself about the new industry and share your insights in the interview. You may be questioned about why you are changing career paths—having your story together helps turn the change into a meaningful step and often a benefit to the future employer. 

  1. Remote work for Startups or Relocation, 

Unfortunately, only some of the world has moved to remote work, and boundaries within jurisdictions still exist—companies are hiring in similar time zones for the well-being of all parties involved. The desire to move to a new country may require work permits, a reduced salary for the sake of being in a new place or upskilling to be able to hit benchmarks. When people were wanting to move to Singapore, I saw them traveling to the city for longer workations, to network and establish new connections, which later benefitted them as a step towards employment there. Depending on your country of origin and target country, the length and difficulty of relocation may vary significantly. 

Now we’ve covered these topics, let’s look at the differences between working for a Startup or SME.

Annual Performance Review Culture vs KPIs 2

Startups are focused on scale

These days it seems that any small young company is called a Startup. Startups usually have a highly scalable component, attracting interest from investors. Being part of a passionate team, disrupting an industry, or big innovation is appealing to many professionals. Such companies live by a “move fast and break things” philosophy


  • An enormous amount of innovation and growth may bring equity, high income, and passive income later.
  • If you are into experimenting and hustling, you may enjoy it, as employees feel secure trying new things.


  • Lack of stability in workload and scope of duties because so much is invested in new initiatives but it is often unstable employment, as the vast majority of startups fail.
  • As everything is fast, there is no time for onboarding and teaching anyone, so newbies can feel left behind. This may not be great for people who are not used to working quickly and aggressively.

SMEs are very diverse and may focus on growth, profit and impact.

Why should you work with/for SMEs? Small and Medium-sized Enterprises or SMEs (generally defined as companies with annual turnover <S$100m, or employ <200 workers) are a key pillar of many economies, but what is even more important they are a big part of everyone’s day-to-day life. Cafes, restaurants, barbers, and bakers are people we see every day, and the quality of their work influences our lives. 

Some numbers for example—Singapore’s SMEs contribute to 48% of its GDP, employing about 65% of its workforce and constituting 99% of all its enterprises. The latest figures suggest that there are 816,000 SMEs in Indonesia, employing 7.9 million people and contributing 27% to GDP.

Experience working in SMEs may be very versatile. Coworkers see each other as family and it can be a very friendly work environment.


  • A very loyal and amiable team who enjoys working together.
  • Frank communication between employees.

Cons of this culture type: 

  • Too much collaboration or unnecessary discussions may decrease productivity, which may be reflected in the organization’s financial capabilities, including salaries. 
  • Inability to make necessary, tough decisions because other people’s feelings are highly prioritized.

These are some things to consider when thinking about whether you’d want to work with a Start-up or SME and there are obviously a lot of other work cultures out there, especially when looking at larger organizations. Keep in mind that if you planning a shift from a larger organization to a smaller company you may be asked in interviews how you will manage differences in workplace culture, where relations are more important than SOPs or growth and innovation are put above profitability. 

Regardless if you are job hunting, reskilling, upskilling, or taking your company to the next stage—we hope you find the best place to work in 2023!

Agnes Kay

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