Career in global corporates to start-ups…early lessons.
Anil was one of the first successful career changers I ever formally interviewed after I launched Midlife Unstuck.
He had spent 20ish years in what could only be described as “a very successful career” by most standards.
Economics degree. Summer internships. Investment banking. MBA from Wharton. McKinsey. Fortune 500. FTSE 100. London, New York, Paris, Geneva and Stockholm.
He was headed directly towards a country leadership position.
He wanted “more”. And figured out that he could find his style of “more” in a start-up. You can read how he made his move from global corporation role to start up HERE.
I caught up with him again 18 months after he had entered his world of start-ups to see what he had learned about career change along the way.
Some of you, considering working in start-up might find his takeaways useful….
Discoveries from my first 18months in a start-up after a 20-year career in global corporations
· “I thought I’d understood the start-up mentality, having helped shape a start-up within a giant corporation. But I couldn’t possibly have known until I was on the inside. I’d researched enough to get chosen for the role but not enough to really know. That can only be learned by actually doing, by being on the inside and living the start-up ways.
· Being “all-in” with an early stage business had a much bigger impact on my life than any other role in my career. It is all-encompassing. There was a huge impact on my partner and my family that I had not fully anticipated. It infiltrates every moment and deeply changes your mindset. For instance, I had done lots of travelling during my working life in big corporations but that didn’t compare to the amount of travelling I did in this start-up company, in a bid to make that company successful.
· Getting used to the high levels of volatility and ambiguity takes time but once it clicks it really clicks.
· The freedom to work in the way that works best for each individual is something that early stage businesses do very well. It seems more…human. Large corporations often assume that you are a different person when you are in work as opposed to outside of work - that you require waking from your life’s slumber when you come into work and that you will disappear back into your facebook-scrolling life when you leave! Early stage businesses get that it’s all one and the same. That life and work are completely fluid.
· If you are interested in self-development, then a start-up is you. It challenges almost everything you’ve ever learned from working in major corporates. There are simply no limits.
· But, if learning fast and holding responsibility for making things fail or succeed isn’t something you enjoy, the stress will hit big time. Start-ups allow you to learn with someone else’s money to experiment, test and fail. It’s been absolutely invaluable learning…but not without its own stresses.
· One of the major differences is you are expected to take practical actions to make things happen. I was always an ideas person but never really took the practical steps to make those ideas real. Now, I have so many ideas for investments and businesses that when I combine those with the practical confidence I feel, I feel the world is my oyster
· You need to have your eyes wide open financially speaking and decide what you would accept as a “success” if you were to leave 12 or 18mths later e.g. equity. So many young businesses fail or change investors in the early years, nothing is long-term.
· Making contacts and expanding networks is always valuable. It’s worth keeping one eye on where you could go after this role. It usually means out – not up in young businesses. But the true relationships made along the way will help you create next opportunities.
· You need resilience. When you exit a start-up, there is no long-term plan and no soft exit. You just leave. It’s very direct. You often retain equity and wish the company well in the future but without you.
More personal observations
· The start-up mind-shift has had an influence in all areas of my life. For example, I’ve been able to very practically help my wife’s business to find suppliers and help with sales meetings etc that I simply didn’t have the close-to-the-ground skills to help with 2 years ago.
· We underestimate how much we can do in work…and generally in life. When we are given the freedom and can tap into the necessary focus, great things are possible. I know people who, in hindsight think they could have been Olympic athletes if they had not spent so much time in the bar, sleeping or on their phone! I was amazed by how much a small group of individuals can achieve when given an enormous amount of freedom.
· Career goals should always be evolving – either in reaction to the market or to personal goals. Leaving your career on auto-pilot doesn’t serve anyone well.
· I feel changed as a business person, but also as a human by my start-up experience. I’m like night and day given how much I’ve learned over the last 18 months.
· I’m a lot less afraid of failure now that I have confidence that I can take an idea and just get on with making it happen.
· After just 18 months start-up experience my whole future career options have been magnified. Even though the time-frames in start-ups are so much shorter than in any corporate I have worked within, the same cycle plays out. I’ve got so many more options than I had with my career history 2 years ago. “
If you are wondering what “More” looks for you, you might want to read this article on the Number 1 trigger for career change in our 40s, 50s or 60s which includes a couple of ideas on how you can start figuring it out for yourself.