The number of people working in blue chip companies wanting to move to start-ups seems to be on the rise. And why not? There’s never been a better time to be part of a new venture. The cost of entry is the lowest it’s ever been, entrepreneurial toolkits are readily accessible and advice on how to prototype, pitch and grow are just a Google search away. The lure of ditching suits for jeans, ‘flexible’ working hours and the constant press about multi-billion dollar valuations is enough for any corporate warrior to adjust their career trajectory and leap into a start-up.
I should know, that was me in 2008.
During 2014 I accepted meeting requests from 19 people wanting insight on how to become a first-time entrepreneur. There was remarkable consistency between each meeting. Every person’s professional life had been spent working almost exclusively in a corporate job (~11 year average tenure) and their motivations for jumping into a start-up were cemented by one of two altruistic beliefs: 1) “I’ve always wanted to start my own company” and 2) “There’s a better way of doing Process A or building Product B and I’m the one to do it”.
The Corporate Way Doesn’t Work In Startups
My ‘aha’ moment came during the 8th conversation and was echoed in the meetings that followed. Each person had the same three qualities in common:
- Their language was heavy with corporate jargon (way too many nouns and not enough verbs).
- Their responses to questions that challenged assumptions of their new venture were batted back with an almost pre-scripted answer that deflected my enquiry. This was my favourite answer for the wrong reasons: “Great question. There’s a need to look into that, we’ll add that to the list”. Tip: When you’re the only founder-to-be, as was the case in 80% of these meetings, there is no we. It’s you.
- Their successes, the times that seemed to give these people the confidence to move into a new venture, came from circumstances where they were operating in well-supported environments (i.e. big budget marketing, IT, strategy or operations team were just a phone call away to get stuff done).
I think these are signs of a kind of corporate conditioning that takes place as people’s behaviours adapt to help them survive and thrive in corporate environments. And it’s little surprise that these people, despite their best intentions, receive a shock which can last for months when they move into their own or someone else’s startup. They are simply not used to operating as an entrepreneur where doing trumps existential conversation, obsession to validate assumptions is a way of life and milestones are achieved with seriously constrained resources.
To Readjust, Just Add Customers
“I can’t remember the last time I spoke with a customer” was the common message I heard in my 19 meetings and herein lies the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Customers (or users) don’t speak ‘corporate’, they are the source of truth when validating hypothesis and it usually only costs a cup of coffee to meet and learn more about them.
Here’s the bottom line: The time it takes to shed corporate conditioning is directly proportionate to the speed at which new entrepreneurs start meeting and listening to target customers.
If you’re like one of the 19 people I met (and kudos for wanting to become an entrepreneur!), try dedicating one hour each day to meeting one target customer for 14 days.
So…how’d you go?