Photo via RootStartup
Photo via RootStartup

You hear about the “startup leap” all the time, and for good reason. It’s not easy to leave a steady job with nice pay for something that will likely fail.

But Brent Turner, president of Seattle’s Code Fellows and veteran entrepreneur, has heard enough of the startup myths that keep people from making the leap.

Turner used his short keynote at Monday’s Get a Real Job Fair to talk about the biggest reasons why people won’t join a startup — and debunked them all.

1. “I’m busy building skills in a corporate job”

If that’s your reason, Turner said you should think about the following questions in regard to your current job: How much have you been thinking about what customers want? About what your business strategy is? Your product strategy? How you differentiate against competitors, how they will evolve, and how you will evolve with them?

“If instead your week has involved PowerPoints, status updates, upward reports, agenda items and follow-ups on action times, maybe a startup is for you,” Turner advised. “I think in most corporate jobs, you’re building machinery for being effective in your current context, but not necessarily building skills that are really necessary to take you to the next level.”

Code Fellows CEO Brett Turner.

2. “I don’t want to join a startup because I’m more of an idea person”

Turner said he hears this and wonders what it means.

“If you haven’t had the experience that helps you understand how to translate ideas into products that solve problems for customers, you know what your ideas are? They’re bad,” he said. “And they’re dangerous.”

He said those “idea people” should consider startups because the experience will teach you the processes it requires to take ideas to market.

“It’s not simple at all,” Turner said. “But it’s a blast.”

3. “It takes too much time to work at a startup”

Turner said that professional people can change the way they think about how their time is spent. For many, going to work tires you out and wears you down, while the time outside of the job is for activities you actually like to do.

“There’s another way to think about it,” Turner offered. “Find something that energizes you, so when you leave work, you’re excited.”

At his current job leading Code Fellows, a program running classes for engineers that guarantee a $60,000 tech job after graduation, Turner said he has fun. It’s something he believes in, and something that gets him excited to go to work.

“Startups in general feel that way,” he said.

Is the lack of venture capital funding a problem for the Seattle startup ecosystem?
Is the lack of venture capital funding a problem for the Seattle startup ecosystem?

4. “I don’t want to take the financial risk”

There’s no question that joining or founding a startup involves more risk financially than taking a secure corporate job. But Turner, who was working at aQuantive when Microsoft acquired the company for $6.3 billion in 2007, said that it can sometimes work out.

And even if your startup has trouble turning a profit or becoming acquired, there’s still a lot of value you can earn by working at one. Turner said that your “NPV” as a job candidate increases if you have startup experience, which can eventually lead to higher wages down the road.

If Turner was hiring one candidate with five years of Microsoft experience, and someone else with two years of Microsoft experience and three years at a startup, he’s taking the latter.

“Their NPV is just higher,” he said of the candidate with startup chops. “They’ve seen more stuff, been challenged in more fundamental ways. ”

5. “What if this fails?”

startupweeklogo_redThis is the big one: People are scared of a startup failing.

“It probably will,” Turner admits.

But he quickly asks a follow-up question: What are you really afraid of?

“Are you afraid of having gone through a couple startups, failed, and gone through those processes?” he said. “Or are you afraid of looking up and realizing you plowed 10 years into a corporate job, and now you probably can’t do a startup. It’s a matter of perspective.

“Fear is to be put aside. It’s about pursuing what you want because you don’t want to look back with regrets. That’s a conversation for every one of us and I encourage you to have it as you think about startups.”

Editor’s note: Get a Real Job Fair” is part of Seattle Startup Week, presented by GeekWire. Find out more about the great lineup of startup-related events here

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  • Sean

    Something this article fails to mention, and almost every article about the financial risk of going the startup route for that manner; An increasing majority of students are coming out of school with 30k+ student loan debt. The corporate job is something they can always fall back on, know that they won’t default. What is the solution for someone coming right out of school that wants to start a small business?

    I was in the position myself and when I graduated chose the corporate job with a salary that could support my lifestyle AND pay off my loans, but my real passion lies with start ups. I finally decided I wasn’t going to wait around any longer for my loans to “go away” and began working on a start up every single day after work from 5-Midnight and on weekends.

    After a few months of doing this nearly every single day we are a month away from a public launch and are currently running a small private beta (that turns a profit). I now have an opportunity to leave my corporate job when we land investment and on top of this, my dedication to being entrepreneurial has caught the eye of management and actually helped in my career development at my company.

    Is it stressful? Yes. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it rewarding? Definitely.

    I just wanted to point this out to the likely large number of people that will read this article and bounce because there was no mention of student loans or solution to the growing problem.

    You can work on a startup with student loans, you just have to dedicate yourself. If it is your passion, make it happen.

  • Mark Illing

    I wonder at the value of this article. If this article convinces you to make the leap and create a start-up, what article are you going to read to overcome your hesitancy at the thousands of issues that are going to arise doing your start-up?

    If this article does convince you to take the leap, make sure you have on your team someone that will keep you effectively motivated.

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