During my job search I was lucky enough to snag two offers from two very disparate firms. One was an established name brand company on the West Coast and the other was a small, unknown firm back East. After careful deliberation I decided to cast my lot with the smaller firm. I have been on the job for almost a year now and in hindsight I made the right choice for my career.
While it's been a good experience so far, there have been some speed bumps along the way. I do think that if you find the right job with the right mentor, working at a smaller company can be a fantastic learning experience. However if you do start working at a smaller company, you have to be prepared to deal with several issues that you would not be faced with at a larger, more well-known firm.
It's Not All Sunshine and Roses
The first issue is training. At my firm there was none. I had done a few excel modeling courses to prep prior to starting work but I was thrown into the fire immediately. This made my first few weeks very stressful. I was tasked with modeling land development deals when I barely even knew the basic land development verbiage which made things very difficult. I was forced to work through our models and diligence processes on my own and while I quickly got up to speed I would have really appreciated a training program.
The second issue regards exit opportunities. I have learned a lot on the job so far and my skills are improving all the time. Yet since no one really has heard of my company if and when I look for my next job they won't know what I can do. If you work in the real estate group at Morgan Stanley or Goldman, the big real estate funds while have a pretty good sense of how well you have been trained and what you are capable of. While I may have a similar skill set future employers are going to have a hard time evaluating me. However part of the reason I joined this firm is because if it's a success I may not have to move, I can simply grow with the company.
While I expected those two issues, the last main problem I did not expect. There are only five people in our main office (we have offices onsite at each of our deals as well), and of those five I am the only analyst. Our managing member, chief operating officer and controller are all in their 40s and have families. There is not really anyone for me to talk to during the workday and I can't do typical office stuff like grab after work drinks with my coworkers. This is the one thing that irks me. I was new to my city and it was really hard to meet people since I did not have a built in network through work.
The Pluses Outweigh the Minuses
While these issues have cropped up my experience so far has been great. I do really enjoy my job and I'm excited about our future. The compensation is great and I have learned a lot. For example having such direct access to our managing member and COO has been tremendously beneficial. My boss was a principal at a big REPE fund prior to founding our company and if I was an analyst at that fund I'd be lucky if he knew my name. At our company I get to sit and work through models with him and see what his perspective is on our prospective deals. Being able to think through different aspects of deals with someone who has 20 years' experience has been an incredible learning opportunity.
If you are faced with the same decision as I was, make sure that you really think about what type of environment you thrive in. Working at a smaller company can be a wonderful (and potentially very lucrative) experience, but before you accept an offer make sure you think about the drawbacks as well as the benefits.