While spending years in a big company as an employee and an executive, I heard many people talking about jumping the corporate ship, dreaming of being an entrepreneur, and totally in charge of their own destiny. Fortunately for many of them, it was all talk and no action, saving them from a world of grief since some simply didn’t have the attributes and mindset to be an entrepreneur.
I’m not saying success is rare, but the list of famous entrepreneurs who started their career in a big company is small. The list would include Howard Schultz, a marketer working for a Seattle coffee bean roaster when a trip to Milan convinced him to jump ship to create upscale espresso cafes that he found all over Italy; and maybe Steve Jobs, who started on the night shift at Atari.
I made the jump myself from IBM several years ago, and now have a satisfying startup advising small businesses and mentoring entrepreneurs. I’ve accepted the challenge of being a bit more positive on how you can make the leap and enjoy it. It’s not very helpful to just say the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Here are some attributes I look for in you:
- Have a passion for a new idea or cause to change the world. Being unhappy with a current job is not really a good reason to become an entrepreneur. I look for interests and plans that ignite a fire inside you every day, solves a real problem in the marketplace, and can attract customers with money to spend. Focus on customer value in every job.
- Comfortable interacting with people on business subjects. Most technical people I know love to discuss and debate technology, but avoid business subjects, including finance and marketing, like the plague. They simply don’t have the interest, or confidence in their ability, in these areas. At least half of every entrepreneur’s realm is business.
- Confident and ready to make better decisions than your boss. If you can’t wait to control results yourself, and without emotion see dysfunction around you, your employee to entrepreneur potential is high. In fact, if you can capitalize on all that you learn in a big company, such as people management and infrastructure, you are even better prepared.
- Already have dependents and employees who look up to you. Jumping the corporate ship to entrepreneurship to escape conflicts with your team or management or instability in your family, is a very risky move and not recommended. Good entrepreneurs need to be a role model in all actions and attitude that others want to follow, rather than avoid.
- Willing to accept setbacks and advice as learning experiences. Entrepreneurs have to be able to deal with rejections from investors, negative feedback from customers, and competitor issues without losing control or motivation. Every new business will face setbacks, and making excuses or pointing blame to the company is not an option.
- Have a demonstrated aptitude for managing money and budgets. Managing cash flow correctly is key to the survival of every entrepreneur. Corporate experience can be very helpful in this regard if you have had success in managing a budget for your project, department, or division. Otherwise think twice before jumping to a new startup venture.
- Can leverage a retirement fund or accumulated savings. I often recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs who have no money that they spend some time as a corporate employee first, to accumulate resources. Expecting an investor to fund you when you have no “skin in the game” and no product is a hard road, and will likely not happen.
Everyone who feels stuck in a rut at work is recently unemployed or is hanging on to an existing job and sanity for dear life, needs to take a hard look at themselves relative to these potential positives. If you can’t find an enthusiastic yes for most of them, perhaps it’s time to appreciate the positives of a regular weekly corporate paycheck for predictable work you know how to do.
Overall, it’s worth your while to turn every ‘no’ on these items into a ‘yes,’ even if you plan to stay in the corporate environment. Every company I know will pay a premium these days for people with entrepreneurial attributes. Make these attributes your strengths, whether you see a future in a corporate career, an entrepreneur, or just to prepare for the new gig economy that we all face.