“Work for a company? But I want to be an entrepreneur!”
You don’t need to wait for permission or credentials or tons of experience before you try launching your own venture. But neither do you need to quit everything and start one now if you’re not ready.
Many aspiring young entrepreneurs feel like working for someone else would prevent them building their own company. They don’t see how it could help them get closer. Yet many of these same young people don’t have a tightly honed idea or clarity on next steps. If your startup dream is still too fuzzy to get off the ground now the best thing you can do is start working on someone else’s.
There is nothing inferior about working somewhere vs. starting something. One is not necessarily an obstacle to the other. In fact, they can be hugely complimentary. The only thing you don’t want to do is force yourself into a situation that’s not a good fit. Don’t do stuff you hate and everything else is fair game.
Here are three benefits to working for a (good) company before starting your own:
1. Knowing Stuff
You don’t yet know what you don’t know. There is so much knowledge and so many skills embedded in the process of building and running a business that cannot be gained anywhere but in the middle of one. You can learn these things while building your own, but you will screw up a lot and the costs will fall on you. When you work for someone else you get the chance to learn and gain skills without the high cost of failure.
The skills aren’t just things like cash flow statements, sales techniques, and software tools, but complex soft skills like emotional intelligence in a diverse workplace with lots of egos. Your ability to navigate a world of clients, investors, and coworkers will increase exponentially if you commit to excellence at a job. These are vital and highly transferable to your own company when the time comes.
2. Knowing People
Nothing is more valuable for a startup – whether bootstrapped or funded – that a network of skilled and connected people. Everything you do requires the help of others. Most of the people you’ll go to for web development, design, introductions to customers or investors, advice on your pitch deck, product development, accounting, and just about everything else will come from connections you’ve made in the professional world. Whatever your education experience, the network you build among peers in a classroom pales in comparison to one built in the workplace among pros and novices of all ages in all fields. Working for a good company will build up your network of good people, and you’ll need to lean on them when you get started on your own thing
3. Knowing Yourself
Sounds cheesy, right? But self-knowledge is probably the most valuable thing when it comes to creating a company. You can’t gain it from introspection alone. Self-knowledge comes best through the practice-practice-theory (repeat) process. You need self-examination, but you need real-world contexts to have something substantive to examine. You need to be immersed in a business environment.
Working at a company will help you discover what things you are really good at and, perhaps more importantly, those you are really bad at. You’ll know what kinds of things are a waste of your time and require someone else and what things you should focus on – you’ll find your own 80/20 split. You’ll learn how you respond to certain types of pressure and how you deal with anxiety, of which there will be plenty when you start your own thing. You might discover that you actually don’t want to launch something on your own at all, but what you really wanted was flexibility and autonomy and freelancing or working someplace great is a better fit. You might discover that there are fifteen things you think every company does wrong and you’ll know to avoid them when you build one.
Whatever the specific epiphanies, you will gain much deeper knowledge of self. And knowing yourself is the key to the kind of leadership needed to build a startup.
You’re not too late. You’re not on any timeline that prevents you from ever starting a company if you don’t do it now. As long as you’re doing interesting stuff with interesting people, you are moving in the right direction. Don’t let your dream die, but don’t try to hatch it before it’s ready and don’t be too proud to help build someone else’s until it is.