It has now been officially 8 months since I left the corporate world to pursue my dreams of being an entrepreneur and running my own successful company. My good friends from UCLA have been in their corporate job now for about 10 months, and we have kept in very close touch, describing our experiences and describing what we like and dislike about our jobs. This post is about what we have each learned about ourselves, the nature of our work, and the culture that we work in.
1. Nature of the Work
Corporate: In an entry level position (and we’re talking about big firms here), a lot of the work that you will be doing is “grunt work.” My friends that are accountants at the Big Four and consultants for litigation, IT, economic and human capital consulting firms all tell me, “after doing this for about a year, I’ve gotten used to the work.” The key words are “used to the work.” In contrast, all my friends who are investment bankers or strategy consultants absolutely love their jobs. Even though they work about twice as many hours as my other friends, they love the “high level” work that they are doing and feel that they are surrounded with extremely intelligent people that were top students as undergrads.
Many of my friends feel trapped because it is very difficult to work in another industry. If you’re an accountant, it is very difficult to become a consultant. My friends have all started studying for the GMAT and are thinking that their MBA could be their ticket to a higher paying, more rewarding job. If you’re a banker or strategy consultant, it seems that you’re taking your MBA to move on to private equity, private wealth, or venture capital.
I think that there is one universal factor here: my friends who say that they look up to the managers and directors at their firm and want to strive to be like them are ultimately much happier with the work that they are doing than my friends who don’t look up to their managers and directors. Notice I’m talking about happiness with the actual work, and not happiness with the culture or people at the office.
Entrepreneur: As an entrepreneur, expect to do EVERYTHING!!! High-level work, grunt work, business development, brand development, human resources, operations, finance… absolutely everything! The thing with being an entrepreneur is that you have no one to tell you what to do, no one to tell you what you should do next after you finish doing what you need to do, and no one to tell you the priorities of your work. There is SO MUCH uncertainty that it could drive an insecure, unmotivated person insane.
Let me give you an example: Since we don’t have a product right now, I pretty much had very little to do (on the surface level). I contacted a bunch of companies to tell them about our future product, contacted VCs to tell them about our idea, and created all the good stuff: company FB, LinkedIn, Squidoo, and blog. So with time on my hands, I decided to create the FD Campus Rep system, Develop the FD Career, FD RPG, and FD Cache sites, start SiteVitamin (which should bring in some initial revenue), and develop the FD Startup.com idea. I had to develop these things to do in order to help my company succeed and bring in some revenue.
In a large established company, you are given all of the work, given your priorities, and are in a very stable environment where you know exactly what you will be doing next. If you just sit around on your butt, the work will come to you. In a startup company, everything is up in the air and you have to develop things to do. You have to push the company or else it won’t go anywhere. If you just sit around on your butt, no work will come to you and your company will die! Sound scary, or exciting?
(Hmmm… I just realized that this post could get very long considering everything I have to say about entrepreneurship. I was going to go into the 5 other areas of companies: culture, compensation, growth, competitiveness, and overall. However, I’ll just get into what I’ve learned in these 8 months.)
What I Have Learned
Entrepreneurship IS NOT for the faint of heart. There are many times when I have gotten discouraged, felt like I was being crushed by the amount of work that I have, felt frustrated because the programmers weren’t developing fast enough, felt alone because Yu-kai flew to Colorado for a business meeting, and felt like the company was going no where. The uncertainty, lack of money, lack of support from family and friends, and absurd competition is enough to make anyone run back to the corporate world.
An entrepreneur MUST have these two characteristics:
- The ability to see everything as a whole (the company, market, competition) and develop the overall strategy, vision, and direction of the company.
- I have seen many of my entrepreneur friends who get stuck on the details. They focus so strongly on making their product perfect, that they forget to digest the fact that the market is trending to a different direction. An entrepreneur must always be able to adjust to the ever-changing horizon.
- You will sit through meeting after meeting and idea after idea. Often times your team will develop a brilliant idea. However, if you do not have the execution ability to convert the idea into reality, you’re idea will never go anywhere. You need to be able to execute on the drop of a dime. For example, we were running short on cash so I quickly got a website development client. We needed more credibility on the team so I got the founder of google adsense to be on our board of advisors. Execution is key!
I just love doing my own thing and dislike being told what to do. Entrepreneurship comes naturally to me.
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