The Autonomy-Impact Axis 📊

How to think about your career: What's more important to you?

If you prefer an auditory or visual experience, check out the video version of this post on my Youtube channel!(More complete and comprehensive as well)


During the pandemic, I quit my job and went from a healthy salary + benefits + equity to virtually nothing. It was a difficult decision to make — something that took months pondering on. But ultimately, in that moment, it was the right decision for me.

Introducing: The Autonomy-Impact Axis

If you're an ambitious person who seeks growth, you're likely looking for high levels of autonomy and high levels of impact.

You want to be in the top right portion of this graph.

But, when we start off in our career journeys, we start at the bottom left.

At the beginning, we typically have to make a decision:

  • Do you want more autonomy within the organization in terms of decision-making?

  • Do you want more impact in terms of the people you’re able to immediately reach and touch the lives of?

In many ways, it’s a similar decision to the type of company you join.

  • Being in a startup will give you more autonomy, without the impact of reaching millions of humans immediately, especially if that startup hasn’t yet found product-market fit.

  • Being in a large company will give you more impact of reach, without the explicit autonomy to easily decide what happens with your reach, given the bureaucracy involved with getting things done.

We start at the bottom left and we choose to move up or to the right of the graph as we grow in our careers.

  • In a startup, if many factors of execution (product-market fit, distribution, etc.) come into play, you garner more reach of users (and move up the graph)

  • In a big corporation, you rise the ladder and get promoted to higher levels of decision-making power, creating more autonomy and agency over your time and decisions (and move to the right of the graph)

Rationalizing my decision: ‘twas time

After working for close to 2 years in both big corporation (LinkedIn) and startups (Kumu, Ripcord, Medgrocer, etc.), I decided that at that point in my career (e.g. earlier this 2021), I wanted higher levels of autonomy and faster decision making cycles to feed into faster cycles of learning, that weren’t bogged down by bureaucracy.

In a larger corp, it was hard finding levels of autonomy because I had to build consensus with all the stakeholders and decision makers when deciding what color button to choose or what copy was best (example below; I had the same experience as Apoorva)

In a startup, you’re incentivized and you want to work faster to learn and iterate your way into product-market fit.

In a bigger company, I was learning how to write good emails, manage up, create alignment, and manage risk, which, are good skills to have, but not the skills I wanted to learn at the moment.

So I crossed over to the high autonomy and low impact quadrant and made the decision to start my own company (and be a creator on the side!)

Startup vs. Big Corp Pros & Cons?

A common question I get: what are the differences between startup vs. big corporation, especially if I’ve ever only experienced one over the other or if I’m starting out my career?

I compare my perspective on pros & cons between startups and big corporations here. (I’d be curious to hear your perspective!)

For an overview:

Startup Pros

  • Permission-less action & autonomy in decision-making

  • Attractive brand to some big companies filtering for “entrepreneurial” folks in the case one wants to go back to big corp

  • Wear a variety of hats and do many things

  • Stronger relationships with team because you’re working towards the same goals

  • Higher areas of influence in direction and strategic bets

Startup Cons

  • Not a lot of focus because you’re doing many things at once

  • Not a ton of data to work with

  • No brand name associated with the company

  • Not necessarily as luxurious a set of benefits

Big Corp Pros

  • High impact and reach (millions of users immediately)

  • Good brand name

  • Limitless data to inform decisions

  • Community of other folks to learn best practices

  • Great benefits

Big Corp Cons

  • Overanalyzing every decision and metric to derisk decisions

  • Many hours spent consensus building

  • Bureaucracy

  • Working on small parts of a product vs. larger, strategic bets

  • Office politics

Ultimately…

It’s your career, your life. Despite what naysayers say — heck, despite what I say — the best others can offer is perspective.

Choose what’s important for you for the point you’re at in your career and your growth.

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Always learning,
Mika