Business Strategy

Corporate to Start-up: Can You Make The Leap?

make leap

So, you’re thinking of crossing lines and making the leap from the corporate world to start-up land.  Think of it as immigrating to a new country.  When you leave a country to start a new life somewhere else you have to be hungry to do things differently.  You must have the capacity to problem solve on the fly and be comfortable taking risks despite lots of unknowns.

Shortly after I launched Ivy Exec, a friend from business school joined the team. She was smart and talented, and had worked for some of the leading consulting firms in the past. However, as we embarked on this journey, our different approaches became apparent quickly. I found the uncertainties of creating a start-up energizing, while my friend worried about the “unknowns” that far outnumbered the “knowns.”  After a particularly intense meeting with bankers my friend burst into tears, totally overwhelmed by the murky path ahead.  And the rest is history.  Today, I am very much the entrepreneur and my friend has a successful corporate career.

When I have an opportunity to bring a seasoned professional on board from a corporate background – as compelling as their experience mix might be – I think long and hard about it.  I need serious convincing that a corporate candidate understands the inherent differences between the corporate and start-up environments, and has the skills and personality attributes to successfully make the transition.

The ability to deliver quality against tight deadlines, a strong work ethic and a team orientation are success factors common to both corporate and start-up employees.  But beyond working hard and playing nice in the sandbox, I look for the following qualities in corporate candidates:

“Nimble” thinkers/“nimble” problem solvers.  Start-ups are inherently fast paced and moving toward the NEXT.  Time is of the essence. Dream it. Do It. Done. Candidates who’ve enjoyed success in more process driven, i’s-dotted/t’s-crossed corporate environments may struggle in a start-up where things have to happen yesterday, and the path forward is painted shades of gray.

Only “drivers” need apply.  There is no corporate mass sustaining forward momentum in a start-up. If your team doesn’t drive your company’s momentum you will stall and die.  And you drive ALL THE TIME. When I review corporate resumes, words like: “Oversee – Manage – Orchestrate – Co-ordinate” are red flags for me. Taking it further, the demands of a start-up environment do not neatly fall into a 9 to 5/Monday to Friday work week.  Ever.  Being a “driver” equates to long work weeks with commitments that frequently stalk you, evenings and weekends.

Perfectionism  a positive. Execution-oriented professionals only. Given lack of resources, time to market is often more important in a start-up than delivering absolute perfection out of the starting gate.  “Good enough is good enough.”  Candidates have to live and breathe execution – not perfection.

Risk takers welcome.  In a start-up it’s about successfully taking measured risks time and time again, without obsessive preoccupation with mitigating risks. Considered risk taking is embraced and encouraged, because if nothing’s ventured, nothing’s gained.  When I assess corporate candidates I ask myself if they will thrive on conquering “unknowns” or be consumed by them.

Low maintenance types preferred. A corporate environment offers a lot of perks that aren’t even recognized as perks until you don’t have them.  Beyond the job spec, start-ups require pitch in types that are as ready to empty the trash and book bargain rate flights, as they are to bring in the next customer or deliver the next product. And,

Absolutely no political animals allowed!

About the Author

Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a selective online career network for top performers.