Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career changes, career transitions 8: startups as a career option

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, startups by Timothy Platt on February 20, 2013

This is my eighth posting to a series on careers, career development and career transitions, and on looking at work and the work experience from a wider perspective than that of the here and now job or job search (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 285-291 for Parts 1-7.) Up to here I have primarily focused on working in larger organizations with all of their established structures, systems and ways. I turn here to consider the more entrepreneurial path, and either as an overall career choice, or as a more limited duration career step. And I specifically focus on startups and on building and working on them here.

One possibility in this, which I would expect comes to mind immediately for most is in taking a build your own approach and setting off to become a successful business-founding entrepreneur. That is certainly one avenue into startups as a career option. But a full discussion of startups as a career move has to consider each of three basic possible routes that could be pursued:

• Working for yourself as a startup founder,
• Joining and working on a founding team in support of a visionary founder, or coming in as an early stage employee,
• And transitioning between those roles of supporting team member and founder

I begin this discussion with the second of these routes: entering into a startup that another entrepreneur is founding, and either as a supportive co-founder who brings in functional expertise as a member of their early stage executive team, or as an early stage employee. In either case I assume as a point of discussion, you’re starting this participation before this new venture has reached break-even cash flow where income matches expenses. As such, no profits are being generated yet and taking on this type of position is not simply taking a more standard job with a young but established business. In many cases this participation would even begin pre-revenue.

• So I am writing about entering into someone else’s startup vision and dream, and working to help realize it as a working and successful business enterprise.
• This might mean working part-time or it might mean making a more full-time commitment. But in either case compensation, or at least monetary compensation would be delayed and deferred until the business has a strong enough cash flow to make that possible.
• This can be a route into working at and helping build a new business as an ongoing career path in its own right, and with a goal of staying with that same new business as it takes off and grows.
• This can also be seen as a learning experience – an opportunity to find out from hands-on experience what starting a business is like and for learning what is actually involved in doing so. I have written several times in this blog about the value of prior experience in building or at least trying to build a startup, in increasing the likelihood that a next such venture would succeed. This applies to startup founders who bring the vision for a startup to the table and work to realize it, but this same learning curve opportunity also applies to those who make the effort to help build a new venture and who learn from every step forward and from every step back too.
• That brings me to the third bullet point I listed towards the top of this posting, and transitioning between the roles of helping to found a startup and being that visionary founder. Whether or not you participate part or full time, and whether or not the startup you join in on succeeds or not, this experience can give you the understanding and insight you would need to know whether trying to build your own startup would make sense or not. And this brings me to that first startup-oriented career option bullet point: working for yourself as a startup founder.

Obviously, no one has to try their hand working with another entrepreneur in helping them realize their dream as a precondition to starting a new business venture too. Most first time entrepreneurs simply, in fact start out and with little if any real planning or preparation for this. I add that most startups fail, and that even when you only consider entrepreneurs who eventually succeed, most of them fail their first time trying too.

• So of you are seriously considering an entrepreneurial, startup founding route, look for learning curve opportunities first, so you will know what is involved and so you can improve your chances of success.
• It can be said that when it comes to startup founding entrepreneurs, success goes to the persistent. Be persistent, but take the opportunities that you can develop for yourself to improve your odds of succeeding earlier too.

As a final thought for this posting I note a point of objection that might come up from it as written:

• This might be nice in principle, but what if I don’t know an entrepreneur I could work with who is currently trying to launch and build a startup?

The answer to that question is networking. I am going to follow this with a series installment on consulting as a career path. Then with at least starting discussions of startups and consulting in place, I am going to explicitly turn to the issues of business-oriented social networking as a career development tool set. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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