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Startup Secret No. 16: That cush job will kill you

You think it's safer to stay in a big corporate job and draw a nice big paycheck? It's not. Here's why.

"Big companies are riskier than small companies."

--Laura Yecies, CEO of SugarSync

Unlike most of the small tech company CEOs I interview, Laura does not come from a family of entrepreneurs. She told me that, growing up, she learned to "misperceive risk" in business. She believed, as I think many people do, "that smaller companies are inherently riskier than big companies."

Over time, she has come to understand that she was dead wrong, at least from the perspective of modern career management. "In small companies you know better what's going on," she says. Sure, she says, it's hard at a small company. "But you have a better feel for the road. It's like driving a smaller car."

The alternative? Riding on a crowded bus, trying to see out the tinted windows. At night. "People in big companies get bombs dropped on them. You can wake up and find the initiative you've been working on has been dropped. You get reassigned or laid off." And you rarely see it coming.

It's much easier to align yourself with your company's main goals when you're at a leaner company. (Especially if you're a founder.) As Laura says, speaking of her experience working at Yahoo, "We had Yahoo Photos and we also had Flickr. One of those was not a good place to be." But from her position (at Yahoo Photos), she had little visibility, and less control, over which was the right division to be in.

Finally, she says, if you're going to cast your lot with a small company, there are ways to mitigate personal risk. Not the least of which is going to a good small company. "Many startups are very well-funded and have great, experienced management teams."

Also, work in a core product area: "Build or sell," she says.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every day for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.