“Awesome!” That’s what I hear most when I tell people about my new entrepreneurial adventure.
“Awesome!” is also what I told a few dozen entrepreneurs before becoming one myself.
And yet, as “awesome” as entrepreneurship is, it still took me 17 years before embracing this path… If we all agree entrepreneurship is awesome, why doesn’t everyone start a company?
Most likely because jumping off the cliff feels instinctively wrong! For me, it meant leaving behind a secure corporate life, a sexy job title and a generous salary and benefits. But what is it really like being an entrepreneur? How is it different from being a corporate employee?
If you are thinking of jumping yourself, here are the main differences between corporate and startup life, as I perceive them at the 6-month mark of the journey.
▹ Accountability & ownership. In a startup delegating is simply not an option (way too expensive!) which means my co-founders and I own all aspects of the business. This requires us to stretch our boundaries and find shortcuts to be as effective as possible. On the accountability side — it all falls on the co-founders alone. There are only a few corporate jobs which come with a similar share of responsibility.
▹ Team. In a startup, you choose whom to work with, which is often not the case in a corporation. It’s a choice you need to make wisely, because you will spend all your time with the same few people — the work version of marriage. In my case, I could not have created Boost.rs with “random” people! Shaping this project with Gregoire Boutin and Catalin Ciobanu, my co-founders, is foundational to Boost.rs’ long term success (it was also the key reason for my leap into entrepreneurship!). Beyond the founders, we’ve also surrounded ourselves with trusted advisors who bring in an external view along with expertise, experience and network.
▹ Community. Going into the startup world, I worried that my long corporate career may be “held against me” by the entrepreneurial community. Quite the opposite — I was pleased to see that entrepreneurs are eager to help each other by sharing good practices, opening their networks, etc. Not that this does not happen in corporations, but the startup scene is much smaller and it’s consequently easier to be ‘visible’ in this world.
② Time management
▹ First off, I feel more productive. A large part of my day as an employee was taken by meetings, calls, travel and administrative processes. This has virtually disappeared and has been replaced by activities which have a direct and immediate impact to the business. I am conscious that this is bound to change as we grow but so far it has been pure bliss.
▹ Broad-focus vs. narrow specialization. In a startup, you end up doing everything, especially at the early stage of the venture. There is constant learning involved, and on a typical day I may work on marketing, communication, product or legal. In between I pay supplier invoices or set-up meetings with funding agencies. A positive aspect is that decisions are quick; on the downside, you discover all sorts of problems requiring expertise you don’t have and had no idea you need (lawyers, accountants, designers, etc).
▹ Overall, the notion of time is different. Starting your own venture is a race against time, which demands a higher sense of urgency in everything I do. Where does the urgency comes from? It’s mostly due to the impatience factor: it feels like a floor-full or Lego pieces waiting to be assembled. I am eager to start playing, but have to take the time to analyze the countless possibilities (there are no instructions for assembling a successful startup!).
▹ Cash flow management. First, the amount of money we started with is orders of magnitude smaller than what a corporation usually manages. There is simply not enough money to do all the things we want, which means a decision to buy one thing is often a decision not to buy another. Of course, everything looks important so we get to prioritize … priorities! The ownership aspect also kicks in: it is nearly impossible to be emotionally disconnected from spending decisions when you are spending your own money!
▹ Growth. Finding grants, securing loans or attracting investors is key to developing our business. In a corporation, your annual budget is almost guaranteed which allows you a good visibility on your future. By contrast, a startup is much less predictable, especially in its infancy, and anticipation is key not only to ensure you have sufficient runway but also that you are not pressured to raise funds.
▹ End of the month. As we recently started our venture, we get no salary at the end of the month. We knew it, but it still hurts! Naturally, it requires a certain life style adjustment — the price to pay for pursuing a dream. Each end of the month I tap into my savings which intensifies the sense of urgency to execute our plans.
As much as I am enjoying the startup life, I should say that my life in corporations was also a happy one: I’ve been lucky to always love the jobs I held and the people I worked with. I’m conscious this is only my sixth month into entrepreneurship, and that the picture (and pressure!) might evolve as I progress into the adventure… I can’t wait to find out!