Admit it, you are dying to jump off and “do a startup.” Whether you are currently at Microsoft or at Amazon, you’ve been reading the crazy stories of entrepreneurs committing everything to a new idea in their desire to change the world.
I read the same stories. And my night time reading included the works of Steve Blank, Guy Kawasaki and Eric Ries. Luckily, I had worked at a few smaller companies before Microsoft, so when I left in 2012 to run marketing at SiSense, a big data analytics company in the Bay Area, the feeling wasn’t that totally new.
Still, I left a great team and a very visible role to move my family to a busy and expensive Silicon Valley. The experience has been incredibly rewarding and I’ve learned a lot about running a business in crazy growth mode. 2013 might be your year. If it is, here are a few things to check and a few others to expect.
Not all startups are born equal
A startup is not a startup is not a startup. My area of expertise is big data and, in this space, there are a lot of “hot” startups. They are not all equal, though.
Some are already established. Some don’t have a product. And some are built to remain niche. My desire in joining a startup was to develop the skillset needed to become a CEO one day. So, when the opportunity to join SiSense came about, I gauged it against three key questions:
- Do I love the space this company plays in and can I contribute to it day 1?
- Is the market for this company growing and do I love the product?
- Do I love the team, its founders and investors?
Note how I’m using the term “love” in each of my questions. As much as joining a startup can be a logical choice for your career, you have to emotionally connect with the market, the product and particularly the team and its investors.
By the time my third week at the company came around, I had spent endless nights working on the company’s operations and strategy with the founders. To give you an example, the night before our first board meeting together; we had collectively slept a good 20 minutes.
No Territory, One Agenda
Management at large organizations is different from leadership at startups. In a large company, employees focus on “rounding out” their profile by learning new things and sometimes trying to fix their weaknesses.
A startup is about focusing on your strengths to maximize impact. Being versatile is important, but you must know yourselves well enough and build on your strengths. A startup is not about “building you”, it’s about “building your business” by applying the most force behind the things you know to do better.
This impacts the way you think about scope. Working in a large company, you might be driven to accumulate responsibilities. In a startup, there is no territory and you must not hang on to the things you can only do at an average pace.
If someone inside the company can do something better than you, give it to them and forget your title. It also works the other way: people naturally throw at you things they don’t know how to do. In a startup, the only agenda is the success of the company.
Nobody Cares, Be Memorable
One of the first gifts my CEO gave me when I joined the company was this poster. It reminded me that, unless you are working on something truly different, or have a compelling story to tell, nobody will pay attention.
It’s true. If you work at a large company today, you might be used to easy access to press, analysts or partners. Everyone likes big brands. However, unless you can truly add value, nobody cares.
So, when joining a startup, don’t expect to have the same access or attention. You will have to think harder. Your creativity, passion and persistence will be tried and you’ll have to be on you’re A-game every day to rise above the noise. Regardless your tactics though, stay on message and have fun!
So, are you ready? Could 2013 be your year?