A few yeas ago,
Jeff Jarvis was in Toronto promoting his book What Would Google Do. As a
VP Digital at a large newspaper, I invited him to stop by our offices to meet
some key executives and to provide some input into a planned redesign of our
It was a nice afternoon, if a bit weird for Jeff (he was placed at the head of a giant boardroom table and asked to give his perspective on the future of media). But at the end of our time together, I did something strangely out of character. I pulled Jeff into my office and begged him to help me get the hell out of the newspaper industry.
I had been a vice president for less than 6 months and though I loved the world of digital media, I was quickly discovering that I did not love the corporate world. I wasn’t good at the politics and couldn’t get my head around working in an industry that seemed more interested in managing decline than building something new and exciting. In fact, I was having daily dirty thoughts of working in the start-up world.
Amazingly, Jeff (who is very kind) did in fact help kick-start my journey toward a new life in the start-up world simply by making a few introductions.
I took it from there. And, after a little soul searching, a lot of work and a couple false starts, I’m now the CEO of Shopcaster, an ecommerce start-up that I’m currently expanding into the US.
If you feel trapped in a corporate job and long to make a break, here are five tips for making the big leap:
1. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons
Do you have a genuine desire to build something from nothing or are you just bored or dissatisfied with your current job? Or worse, have you watched The Social Network too many times and are dreaming about Zuckerberg’s billions?
Start-ups are hard.
Can you handle constant uncertainty? How about ambiguity? Constantly changing priorities? Are you willing to work long hours at a punishingly fast pace? Are you capable of working with next to no resources - ie. in a tiny office space with limited staff and virtually no marketing budget?
Without true passion and drive, you’re going to struggle.
2. Make sure you can afford it
With all the stresses of start-up life, the last thing you need is to be worrying about your own finances. If you get paid at all, start-up pay is nowhere near the levels of corporate pay (not to mention the lack of benefits).
Sure, the long-term goal may be to make your millions, but the truth is, most start-ups fail. Do yourself a favour and build nest a egg first. Even if it takes a couple of years to get there, at least you’ll be working toward something. And, you won’t be freaked-out about your mortgage payment when you should be focused on how to grow your business.
3. Talk to everyone
Do your research. Which start-ups do you admire? Who are their investors? Get some meetings and let it be known that you have a certain skillset and you’re looking to make a move to a start-up.
If you’re not a
techie and you’re looking for a technical co-founder, get ready for a long hard
search. It’s probably easier to find a husband than to find a great CTO.
Ask for help. In the corporate world, we’re taught that needing help is a weakness. In the start-up world, not admitting that you need help is a weakness. Ask for introductions, ask for advice, ask for resources.
But, you have to be willing to give help too. Which leads us to tip #4...
4. Be willing to work for free
If you’re looking to join an existing start-up, the best way to break in is to volunteer your time and do some project work. You can do it by working nights and weekends before you leave the corporate world. Not only will it show the start-up team what you can do for them, but it will help you determine if start-up life is really for you (see tip #1).
If you’re starting a new business from scratch, you’re going to need a working prototype and some thoughts on a revenue model before your first investment. That means working for free.
5. Only make the leap if you love, love, love the start-up you’re entering
My first start-up job was at a company called CanSport LIVE where we were gathering amateur sports organizations into a digital advertising network. I joined the company because I thought that the business model was very clever (we were selling actual soccer moms to advertisers).
But the job didn’t give me the satisfaction I longed for when daydreaming at my old corporate job. And that’s because I have zero passion for amateur sports.
So I had to go back to the drawing board and that’s when I found Shopcaster, a company I truly love with a mission I care deeply about.
And let me tell you, I took a 70% pay cut for this job and I’ve never worked harder in my life, but I’ve also never been happier or more fulfilled in my career.
I wish all you daydreaming corporate types the same.