there is something to be said about working in a company first

Images-1The more I talk to investors and entrepreneurs the more I have come to think that there is something to be said about working in a company first. 

There is no doubt a handful of entrepreneurs who have been at some type of business or another since they were able to walk and that is a unique breed.  They have an innate understanding on how to grow a business and understand when the business needs to be tweaked.  Yet there are also many entrepreneurs who are stubborn and refuse to do it any other way but their own.  When you have a group of investors that care about the success of the business too, I'd recommend rethinking that type of behavior but it just sometimes comes with the territory.

I see (and so do all investors) so many business ideas these days.  Some of them IMHO are awful while others are interesting yet I can't imagine how they can make any significant amount of money to create a need for investors.  Regardless many of the people behind these start-ups have never really had a job in a start-up but are just jumping into the start-up game. 

One investor I know is frustrated with first time entrepreneurs who really have not learned on someone elses dime.  The beauty of working in a start-up before starting your own is that you get to see in person what works, what doesn't, what the realities are of growing a business from scratch.  The ability to wear a bunch of different hats…and more than anything an education in how hard it is to build a business and to see first hand what works and what doesn't work can only be a tremendous value for anyone moving forward in their career. 

I certainly applaud everyone who is starting their own businesses.  I write about that often and as far as I am concerned the more entrepreneurs the better.  Yet there is something about learning the underpinnings of a start-up business before embarking on your own.  I also believe that working with a team can teach you about your own limitations including your best assets.  That is helpful to know before starting your own as you know what makes sense in a partner. 

Bottom line…there is something to be said about working in a company when you get out of college or even graduate school before immediately jumping into your own start-up.  The road is long and the more you know before embarking on your own endeavor it might be worth learning a few things of value before going down that road. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Kirsten Lambertsen

    As someone who racked up a lot of experience in start-ups before launching her own, I really appreciate this post. Sometimes it feels like any freshly minted Stanford MBA can trump my 15 years experience (when it comes to investors). With all due respect to the recent Stanford grads out there, I find it hard to fathom.

    1. Gotham Gal

      experience goes a long long long way

  2. Daniel Doebrich

    Great post, thanks Joanne!Being able to learn at a start-up is worth way more than the actual salary that you get. It gives you the opportunity to gain knowledge and comprehension from the founders’ mistakes on their way to build up a company. Failure is important, but –as you describe– many avoidable mistakes are made along the way that can threaten the whole business. And they are mostly to be blamed on the lack of experience.What I would consider as even more critical is the fact that many first time founders get ‘blind’ along the way (which is more than normal), but refuse to accept the advice given from investors, people from outside, and their own employees. They stick along with their idea until there is no other option than to close down the business.The last start-up, where I worked with two experienced entrepreneurs proved exactly the opposite. They followed their own way, but were aware of the risks, and open to constructive criticism. In my perception it is a question of the serenity that comes with age and the experience with numerous critical situations.

    1. Gotham Gal

      great comments.

      1. Daniel Doebrich


  3. Katie Covington

    Joanne I’d love to know your thoughts on getting work experience in a startup vs. in the industry you’re trying to disrupt.

    1. Gotham Gal

      If you are going to disrupt let’s say education, then either you or educators in your company is key. otherwise, how are you going to understand what isn’t working.the key to a start-up experience is really understanding how to grow something from an idea. it is hard hard work to create something from nothing. working in an environment like that is insightful.

      1. Katie Covington

        Thanks Joanne! It certainly is a mind blowing amount of hard work.

  4. LE

    This is very interesting (just today on HN) relative to the subject today as it seems to bypass the “learning on someone else’s dime”. That said I think it’s an excellent idea and expect to see plenty of copycats.”Upstart lets you raise money in exchange for a small share of your income for 10 years. It’s an investment in you, not your idea or your business. Pursue your dreams with guidance from backers who believe in your aspirations.”

  5. Guest

    Great post Joanne! The life experience is equally valuable to the work experience. So much happens in your life during this period that prepares you to better build, maintain, and navigate relationships.

  6. Marjan Ghara

    I hope you find this to be true for tech start-ups as well. My sense was that tech investors are more excited about young, freshly minted tech guys. Maybe its because the big tech companies, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook … were all started by young tech guys and so that profile is familiar.And when someone like Peter Thiel is willing to fund entrepreneurs who are willing to delay or forgo college to start companies, it sends another message about the importance of gaining work experience before jumping into entrepreneurship.I hope more investors think like you.

  7. Jim B

    This is a really refreshing post.I would go one step further and say there is also something to be said for spending some time in a big company. Unfortunately it seems that next to ripping on an MBA education the other major sport in startup land is ripping on folks working in big companies. But the mockery is short sighted.In Big Corp today you learn how to be resourceful and hustle when internal funds and staffing are scarce. If you are going to be successful have to learn to get along with others who can be difficult or mediocre in what they do. In a client facing corporate role you have to deal with demanding clients or clients who often say no and you can’t just move on to the next prospect when major business is at stake.Trying to be successful within the constraints of Big Corp creates a big set of challenges and you really have to be dynamic, resourceful and have your wits about you to get ahead. Most of all you really have to learn to get on with all sorts of people.Yes, there may not be the financial risks of startup world in Big Corp but you do have to take personal and professional risks to make the experience work.The skills of navigating successfully through Big Corp seem like they can certainly cross over to the startup world.

    1. Gotham Gal

      working in a big company teaches many lessons. certainly working within an organization and the political nonsense that goes on is a huge learning experience. the challenges in a large company are so different. you generally only get to wear one hat but to watch the inner workings of a large organization is definitely an experience that is worthwhile in the start-up world.

      1. anne weiler

        Also, if you are planning to sell to big companies having worked in one helps a lot to understand how they make decisions.

  8. Suzan B

    Yes, yes, yes. I spent a number of years executive coaching entrepreneurs as well as served as a consultant for the SBDC. Having prior business experience is one of the best things you can do as entrepreneur to accelerate your learning and increase your odds of success. Sure, we all hear the stories of the Zuckerberg’s but they are certainly the minority rather than the majority.I spent 10+ years in big consulting firms and corporate america + time at startups and growing business before starting my own business. Although I am truly an entrepreneur at heart I am so grateful for that the time I spent learning solid business skills on handling difficult people, office politics, managing client and boss’ expectations and more on someone else’s time.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the people that are touted such as a zuckerberg are a minority….so true. we can all hope that we are able to make that leap but the truth is most entrepreneurs who start with an idea, grow the business and then take it public can be count on maybe 1 – 2 hands.