Do Corporate Postions Prepare You For Entrepreneurship?

35 comments
Do Corporate Postions Prepare You For Entrepreneurship? post image

Today I reached into the mailbag:

Hey Dan,

What should I be looking for in terms of skills and training that are transferable to being an entrepreneur? Do you think corporates gigs can deliver these skills satisfactorily? 

In general, my opinion is no. If you want to get prepared for entrepreneurship, it’s probably best to work for a small company with less than 15 employees that wants to grow. When you do get that job, try to “own” as much responsibility for the company’s results as you can.

I don’t mean to say corporate jobs are entirely useless– just like liberal arts degrees, they certainly have the potential to help you. You’ll probably learn some broadly applicable lessons, but it’s like jogging everyday to prepare to be a sprinter. It helps a little. It hurts a little. But at the end of the day, it’s a different sport.

Plus, the longer you remain in corporate, the less incentive you’ll have to jump on a different trajectory (see: How to Get Rich).

Seth Godin once said that reading about how to be an entrepreneur is like reading about how to have sex. That makes sense to me. Entrepreneurs read books and then go set fires with the pages.

If it’s true that action is critical to learning entrepreneurship, then in the long term it’s probably worth it to take a significant pay cut in order to work for an entrepreneurial organization.

You can also find ways to be proactive starting today. Even in a corporate setting.

Make a sales call, tomorrow. Don’t wait for an offer from corporate. Give them an offer. Put another offer on the web. Hustle up meetings on your lunch breaks. Find that small business and score the gig.

I said something similar to a friend the other day and he replied, “yes, that’s easy for you to say, but I have no idea what I’m doing!”

I replied “the only difference between me and you is that I’m okay with that, and it isn’t stopping me from moving forward.”

I am close to being offered an attractive opportunity with a big corporation–lots of training and location mobility possible–BUT I can’t help feeling that accepting it would just be a case of taking the easy route, and that after 12 months the glamour will have rubbed off and it will be back to the same old unfulfilling rat race.

It depends what you want out of life. At some point, we all have to start getting on with what we want to get on with. If that’s running your own business, or being an entrepreneur, or playing the guitar, or running a marathon, at some point you have to start doing it. It’s not about going to a school or reading a book or whatever– it’s about going and doing it.

It doesn’t mean you can’t take the job. It means you’ll be putting off becoming an entrepreneur. And you might have good reasons for that. Maybe it’s not that much of a priority. Maybe you’ll save some money. Or see some cool places. Or meet some cool people. But you won’t yet have gotten down to doing it, which is what it will take to learn how to do it.

What was your tah-dah moment, was it linked to a passion or interest, or was it just a by-product of “just doing” things and almost stumbling over it? Was it a conscious process that can be repeated? Or was it something more organic?

When you aren’t on the trajectory of entrepreneurship, determining “what to do” seems like the primordial question. But it’s actually not. You aren’t looking for “an idea” or “an opportunity,” or worse “some things to research”– instead, you are looking for a life trajectory that makes those things regular events.

Like hanging out with and interacting regularly with entrepreneurs. For them, “what to do next” is just part of a process. It’s breakfast talk. The opportunities are everywhere when you hang around with people who deal in them.

I’m on a path to repeating my father– working for a company that will ultimately reflect a safe but unfulfilling approach to life.

A thirst for financial independence has been fueled but also an internal conflict has grown inside me. My parents shaped me into a career person; I can see the drivers why they made these decisions but on reflection this is proving to be unfulfilling. I feel like putty which is forcing its way out of its current mold to fit into a new one, but it is a struggle!

Totally agree it’s not easy. I am not immune to social pressure and it took me a long time to realize the options my parents laid out for me were only “sensible” options– get a good salary, get a good degree, etc., but they weren’t really prepared to give me “great” options. How could they? In their position, as distant advisors, that’s the best they could do. Maybe Frank Zappa said it best:

“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

Michael Covel said it compellingly on one of our podcast episodes“if you aren’t ready to [make the jump yet], maybe you need to go back and work for that asshole.” And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Entrepreneurship isn’t without it’s risks, and not everyone finds “PASSION AND FULFILLMENT BABY.”

It’s very often the case that running a business can bring new levels of freedom, engagement, creativity, and even wealth.

But there is one thing you can count on– 10 times out of 10 it’s about running a business, which isn’t for everyone.

Cheers,

 

Dan

PS, if you’d like to receive emails from me you can put your address into the form below:

Published on 10.01.13
  • Kasimir Zierl

    NIce Article

  • http://www.adventurous-soul.com/ Shayna

    Nice, Dan. I like your recommendation about working for a small company. My last corporate gig was actually with a somewhat sizable organization, but with a very underdeveloped web department/presence – they bascially handed me the keys and said “go!” Although I still had to work with the rest of the team, get approval from supervisors, etc., it was a fantastic opportunity to learn, innovate, and experiment.

    To the person with the attractive opportunity – often you have to actually TRY something to find out if you’ll like it or not. You might accept the position and end up loving it – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Or if you take the position and end up hating it, then look into making a change at that point. At least you’ll then know for a fact that it wasn’t for you (rather than theorizing) On the flip side, as Dan mentioned you also need to try (that is – DO) entrepreneurship before you know if you actually enjoy running your own business. On the side if necessary.

    Sometimes I think that lifestyle design dabblers are in the worst position of all. They’re neither happy/satisfied with their day job (which again, there’s no shame in enjoying a “traditional” job or career!) nor are they willing to attack entrepreneurship, take massive action, build and enjoy running their own business.

    I forget who said this, but one quote I love is “If you’re unhappy, then change your attitude, change your circumstances, or both.” Circumstances are often moldable once you break out of the typical scripts. But if there are circumstances that are completely inflexible (or there are things that you’re not willing to take action to change, for whatever reason), then choose to change your perspective.

    Guaranteed you’ll be happier, whatever your employment / self-employment situation.

  • http://www.JiansNet.com/ Jian

    Wow, another epic post, I love it. It is all about the right mindset to make things happen, and it is tough at times to keep it going, but Dan, your post is very encouraging and I appreciate it a lot.

  • Ron

    Dan, did you ever work for a small company before going on your own? What was your experience?

    I went the small company route (less than 15 people) right out of college, while most of my friends went off to big names like IBM, Deloitte, etc thinking “ill be able to learn more than if I work for a large gig”. I quickly found myself working 80 hour weeks for a illogical tyrant. I was not growing, I was not learning. I had a family to support so quitting was not an option. If anything all I got from that gig was a solid case of PTSD.

    Eventually I ended up getting a job at a larger company. It was much less chaotic, with more stable hours, and as a result I now have a growing side business, parlayed from skills I learned at the said larger company.

    The thing is- I know my experience is far from unique. A lot of my friends that started out in the larger corporations then used the name on their resume (and knowledge they gained) to parlay that into lucrative consulting gigs, and start their own companies.

    I guess my thing is in real life, I’ve never seen this ‘damage’ that corporate employment does to future entrepreneurial ability. If anything I’ve seen it enhance it. Look at all the companies founded by Ex-Googlers- Optimizely immediately comes to mind. Bonobos was started by ex-VCs. Tons of other examples.

    I respect you immensely as an entrepreneur – you are certainly more successful in that realm than I. But I just see you give out this “work for a small company” recommendation and I’m worried it’s one of those cliches piece of advice that is about as dangerous as people who say “get an graduate degree” without qualifying it.

  • http://www.timelapsestrategies.com/ Euvie Ivanova

    I love the concept of engineering an environment where opportunities “grow organically” – what you refer to as a trajectory.

    There is a similar concept I first heard at a Millionaire Mind seminar – “intentional congruence”. Ironically, I think it’s a corporate term, but I have adopted it to entrepreneurship and life in general. It’s the idea that everything you do has to benefit everything else you do, by design. So you focus on things that help build everything else, and cut things out if they throttle that growth, or things that are arbitrary and just take up time but provide little benefit. This creates a spillover effect, where for 100% of work you put in, you get more than 100% result – because it not only accomplishes your task at hand, but also adds varying degrees of benefit to other aspects of your life. It’s related to the 80/20 principle – except it’s like a link wheel of 80/20s all bringing link juice to each other. It’s exponential benefit.

  • http://www.seedsofmusic.net Kyle Williams

    I would love to read an article on how working a menial labor job can prepare you for entrepreneurship.

  • Kristof

    Great Article Dan. Exactly why I just quit my corporate gig. It was not leading me to where I want to go. Quite the opposite probably. Looking forward to the podcast!

    Cheers,
    Kristof

  • Heather

    All that asking for permission and approval steals away your “mana” and confidence in your own decisions, and it’s easy to get stuck in that mindset and lifestyle. You can learn from any business big or small if you are intentional and it’s a good place to learn about an industry and develop a network in it.

    I think your letter writer(s) already knows what they want to do, they are just asking the wrong people for permission.

  • Danica Ratte

    I agree as well, Dan, that working for a small company before making the entrepreneurial leap has its benefits.

    I’m from the states, but somehow landed a job with an Australian, 6-person company two years a go. I have worked very closely with the Managing Director over this time and now we have added 5 more people to the team and have grown to making 7 figures.

    I didn’t know when I first started that I wanted to take the location independent route, but once I figured it out, working for the Managing Director turned into a fly on the wall experience. I’ve seen behind the scenes how this woman has made it through life and business struggles (having a baby while trying to manage the business), made tough decisions (‘should I fire an employee who has been with me from the beginning’), how to celebrate big wins (flying the team for a celebratory lunch in Sydney)… I’ve seen the moments she feels insecure about the direction of the company and moments when she feels like giving up. But then once she gets over those moments, on the outside she looks like an ubber successful and confident business woman who bootstrapped a business all on her own.

    This amazing experience has prepared me for the realities of taking the leap, and building out your own business. It also has been a good reminder to not give up and work through problems until you find the solutions. And that successful entrepreneurs are every day people with a whole lot of courage!

    Besides the fact that I have been able to help make important decisions for the business and I have been allowed to experiment with my role, I have also landed a mentor who has created a mental blueprint for me, so to speak…. But perhaps I should tell her all of this, when the time is right!

    So, yes, I would recommend to anyone in the beginning stages to work for a small business. There is a lot to learn!

  • Sigurdur Gudbrandsson

    I can only comment with something Dan pointed out in a podcast once:
    Read (or listen to) the Icarus Deception.
    Better to be sorry than safe.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnMcIntyre_ John McIntyre

    This post is super quoteable. My favorites:

    “Seth Godin once said that reading about how to be an entrepreneur is like reading about how to have sex. That makes sense to me. Entrepreneurs read books and then go set fires with the pages.”

    I replied “the only difference between me and you is that I’m okay with that, and it isn’t stopping me from moving forward.”

    “For them, “what to do next” is just part of a process. It’s breakfast talk. The opportunities are everywhere when you hang around with people who deal in them.”

    I think Zuck’s “Move fast and break shit” quote sums entrepreneurship up succinctly. Took me a while to “get it”, but now, whenever someone asks me how to get started, I tell them to get in the ring and start swinging… that’s where the magic happens.

  • Pad

    Hi Ron, I agree that working for a small company is for sure not always the optimum solution. Especially because lots of stuff is not so well organized and structured like in larger one. And if the boss is an asshole makes it not easier at all ;) But it also helps to experience a smaller system from the inside and get a feeling how smaller companies work and to really see it in reality.

    I have met some people who worked for large companies such as Siemens in a leading role, who were not anymore able to think business with less resources and to be creative with the ones you have. But I also believe it depends on what kind of biz you are tending to build. Do you need venture capital and need to think in bigger structures. Are you a team? Or do you plan to be a solopreneur, keep most of the costs low, outsource case by case when receiving an order, just with the objective to be independent and stay so.

    It probably depends on each of us and the circumstances what the individual objective is. This is sometimes the biggest task at all, this is a least my feeling. (so many exiting shit out there)

    Personally I little regret not having worked for a large company, but this is another story ;)

    HeyHo & Greetz from Bremen, Germany
    Pad

  • Josh

    This quote is money. Not just for entrepreneurship but for life in general we have to be comfortable dealing with uncertainty.

    I said something similar to a friend the other day and he replied, ”yes, that’s easy for you to say, but I have no idea what I’m doing!”

    I replied “the only difference between me and you is that I’m okay with that, and it isn’t stopping me from moving forward.”

  • http://codingtraveler.com/ Gustaf Byström

    A huge step for me to go independent was when i decided to quit my job i asked them if they wanted me to stay for a while and freelance for them.

    I had to agree on less money and benefits, but by living in a cheaper country (South East Asia in my case) this made out giving me more than left over anyway.

    We also agreed that i shouldn’t work full time (my wish) to be able to work on my own projects. This gave me a transition period that didn’t cost me anything, actually the opposite.

    I am a software developer, and this won’t work in all sectors or companies, but i am sure this method can work for many and is something i really recommend.

    I wrote a blog post about my experience in it here http://codingtraveler.com/freelancing-to-escape-9-to-5/

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Thanks!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Thanks Jian!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Thanks John appreciate the kind comment.

    Agreed re: move fast. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book is a great mediation on this — how “do the correct / right / safe ” thing is a language those in privilege use to keep those without that privilege in their place.

    those with “nothing to lose” or who don’t care for whatever reason, feel like they can just go breaking shit :)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    “Sometimes I think that lifestyle design dabblers are in the worst position of all.”

    Totally agree, being a linchpin employee or entrepreneur have very little to do with these types of considerations.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Cheers Gustaf thanks for the link I’ll check it out..

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    :D thanks Josh.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    “The riskiest thing is to be safe.”

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Cheers sounds like we’ve had similar experiences there!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    that makes sense, i was a huge permission seeker when i was feeling my way towards this lifestyle, wish I would have done less in retrospect.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    cheers Kristof thanks!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    nothing like digging some ditches to burn the “never going back” into your head!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Yes this is a really good way to say it… don’t do one thing in order to get another… somewhat related to “the one thing” concept as well… love this frame up

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    “I quickly found myself working 80 hour weeks for a illogical tyrant.”

    This actually seems to be one of the major risks with going the small business routes, as often they do seem to be run by this personality type.

    Totally agreed with you corporate experience stuff too, seen many take that route and no question it works– for certain with leading edge tech companies and large former start ups, but also from more traditional big companies as well.

    probably needs more “this is what worked for me” frame, but i think making anti-tyrant and other similar qualifications is extreme !

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    “I have met some people who worked for large companies such as Siemens in a leading role, who were not anymore able to think business with less resources and to be creative with the ones you have. But I also believe it depends on what kind of biz you are tending to build. Do you need venture capital and need to think in bigger structures. Are you a team? Or do you plan to be a solopreneur, keep most of the costs low, outsource case by case when receiving an order, just with the objective to be independent and stay so.”

    I think I’m barking up this tree, corporate positions can tend to decay the “hustle muscle” which is so critical for the hustle and humiliation bootstrapped small business (those which we talk about here) tend to depend on. Again it’s not like you can’t do this stuff if you have a corporate gig, it’s just that your work is in different modalities, so it’s like doing one thing to get another.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Also all this talk it’s probably worth defining what I meant by “corporate” which is a convenient definition for positions which don’t exercise entrepreneurial instincts, there are plenty of corporate positions that do, googlers etc great example.

  • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

    Agreed. The company I worked at out of school was quite a bit bigger but it was a well funded tech startup (Zillow) that was still pre-launch when I joined. I learned a ton in 4 1/2 years there…and definitely would recommend others do something similar before jumping in head first.

  • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

    “I quickly found myself working 80 hour weeks for a illogical tyrant.”

    Working for the man isn’t so bad, IF you’re working for the right man. In your case, that sounds like it wasn’t the case..

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    “(so many exiting shit out there)”

    AGREED! :D

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    see so many of these types in small business.

    in corporate, more like just “tyrant.”

  • Andrew Youderian

    Not sure how I missed this post, but somehow slipped through the cracks! But as someone who went from the corporate world into my entrepreneurial life (like yourself) I think it can be a spectacular launchpad in terms of preparation. Here’s why:

    1) Helps you build a living / business fund. It’s hard to build a business when you’re broke. Possible? Yes. But I’ll take a nice business fund that’s possible to save up in a corporate gig, please. Allows for more flexibility, mistakes and ramp-up time.

    2) My corporate position taught me how to really crank things out and get work done. On time. Without excuse. The work ethic I developed there definitely helped me focus on my business when I quit.

    3) While this won’t be applicable to every position, the financial skills I learned in my corporate gig have proven invaluable to my business – both for bootstrapping my own accounting to forecasting and creating models I use to make decisions.

    4) Motivation. Two years at my J-O-B and I knew that’s not what I wanted to do for 40 more years. Helped me really focus when times were tough in my business.

    5) Finally, and this may sound shallow, but the corporate position did offer some clout post-quitting and the ability to connect with others. It was a way to show legitimacy to potential business partners when I was getting started. People are more likely to partner / support someone who left a good job as it does signal a certain level of competency.

    Sorry Dan – This comment has become one of those really annoying ones you glance at and think “Seriously? Do I have to read ALL that?”. But just had to weigh in as I’ve thought a lot about it.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Hey absolutely great comment Andrew love your points. The “clout” thing was defo something I leveraged (although not from corporate but from small business). It was really important for some of our new clients that we had worked for big brands… the ownership structure under which you did the work is generally way less important than the type of talk you are capable of after having done it. They know if you are the real deal or not.

    Love the motivation point, I’ve got scar tissue too… sometimes I worry about the younger guys who never went through it but I suspect they’ll be just fine :)

    Finally:
    “On time. Without excuse.”

    My man.

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