Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Leaving Corporate America in the Rearview Mirror


There was a time in this country when the prevailing model of a successful career constituted finding a job in corporate America and steadily moving up the ladder for a period of 30-40 years and ultimately retiring with a decent pension and a gold watch.  The ranks of some of our grandest corporate institutions are, to this day, filled with people that define success just that way.  Yet, as we move toward a more advanced technological society, the idea of spending an entire career with a single employer is becoming as rare as people without smartphones.  They are still there, but their numbers are dwindling every day.

Like my mother, who at age (censored) just got her first iPhone, it is never too late to embrace the future.  Even if you are one of those big company lifers, you can still escape from the bonds of the corporate grind and pursue the world of entrepreneurship.  In fact, now may be the best time ever to make the leap.

Given the difficult labor market, now might seem like a time to hold onto that job with both hands and a vice-like grip, but I would argue just the opposite.  Now is the time to let go.  With large companies cutting corporate benefits and the term “job security” just an antiquated notion, no one’s job is truly safe.  Virtually every big company employee is looking over their shoulder at who might be able to do their job for less money, and around the next corner wondering when their job may be outsourced or downsized.  Such prevailing paranoia creates an environment that is not particularly conducive to innovation and growth.  Today's corporate culture is one that discourages creative thinking and rewards a “make no mistakes” mentality.  I talk to so many corporate managers whose entire business strategy consists of keeping their heads down and not taking risks, lest those risks produce a negative result that makes it easy to put them on the inevitable chopping block.  Without taking risks, how is the company ever to move forward and create innovative products or services for their customers?

Despite some concerns about the bad habits that can be obtained in corporate America, I believe these employees have some advantages that may make them the perfect 2012 entrepreneur.  First and foremost, they know how corporate America works!  At some point, you are going to want your new venture to be able to sell to the big corporation.  Knowing just how those companies operate, who makes the ultimate purchasing decisions, and perhaps most importantly, how to ensure you get paid, are all critical elements for a fledgling entrepreneur.  Insider insight into these elements gives you a huge leg up on the competition.

Another advantage corporate escapees may have is an intimate knowledge of the problems inside their former employer.  The most successful startups solve a key problem for some segment of the population.  Often, that segment of the population is a large company.  Many new companies are founded on the premise of solving a perceived problem identified by an outsider looking in.  A former employee should have a clear understanding of the challenges facing their industry and an insider’s advantage on the most efficient way of solving those challenges.

Finally, while I don’t recommend it, and personally believe that it will hinder your chances at success, a corporate employee potentially has the advantage of having a safety net underneath them as they launch their venture.  The unemployed entrepreneur has the difficult task of launching a company and paying the bills at the same time.  Without either significant financing, a sizable savings, or a spouse/significant other that is earning enough, it is difficult for the startup entrepreneur to balance the monetary needs of the company with their personal monetary needs.  Having that paycheck makes this balance a little easier to achieve.

That being said, my personal recommendation is for the entrepreneur to cut the corporate cord completely before launching a business.  A startup venture almost always requires an all-in commitment and having one foot in the corporate camp is difficult.  Trying to straddle the chasm between a job and your new business can be a surefire recipe for failure.

So much attention is paid these days to the college dropouts who started a company in their dorm rooms.  And while those entrepreneurs are deserving of their success and the accolades that go with it, that is still a high risk group to bet on.  If I am looking for the best bet on the board, I’m looking for the startup spawned by a former mid-level corporate manager who knows his market and the solutions that market is demanding.

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  1. This is an interesting post. However, the text on your blog is pretty small. It makes it tough to read.

  2. Much better, and done in under 24 hours. Nice.

  3. No problem! Thanks for letting us know!