Gary Sells Soap
A few weeks ago I felt I was representing the startup world when I was trying to convince a high-caliber fresh graduate to try out the startup life. (Let’s call him “Gary”)
Yes, while he had several tempting, lucrative offers from MNC’s, any of which would’ve dwarfed whatever salary offer any startup could’ve given, he was also deeply intrigued by the startup life and was involved in several startup-related activities on campus. Moreover, he had enough of the “I-want-to-do-something-different” streak in him that I allowed myself to hope: “Hey we have a chance.”
Soon enough, I got a text message from him a few days after…
“I decided to try out my luck in corporate first.”
Along with the obligatory…
“But Peter, I know this isn’t really for me. Maybe in a 2-3 years, I’ll try it out in a startup. Maybe sooner.”
I texted him some well-wishes, but in my mind, I just sighed.
I knew there was a great, great chance the startup world just lost another talent. The chances of Gary coming back in a year or two are as close as the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets!) winning the NBA title.
How do I know this? Here’s a very simple answer.
Gary will be given an ungodly salary as a fresh grad. This will make him feel good because a) he can afford a more luxurious lifestyle b) his friends will say “wow, ang yaman mo na” to which he’ll reply, “ito naman oh, hindi naman” while secretly smiling inside during the whole conversation.
It is SO EASY to get used to the more luxurious lifestyle, ESPECIALLY if you aren’t used to it. (this also forms part of my theory as to why you also have a lot of rich folk doing startups – they wouldn’t be sacrificing much) In 2-3 years, after 2-3 more salary increases, would YOU give up this lifestyle to work for a startup where you will work DOUBLY hard and get paid CONSIDERABLY less, with no guarantee of success? (oh man, I might’ve chased away more people)
“Why are you even dismayed?” you may ask. Yes, I know a huge majority of people won’t choose this road less travelled. Most people aren’t built for it.
Yeah, I know.
It’s just sad to witness and feel this statistic first hand. Especially when I KNOW that if you do have that itch within you, these days are the best days in history to follow your startup dream.
Alright. I concede.
For the present time, I concede that corporate will have their way with 99% of graduates, even with those like Gary who have great startup genetics. I concede that for the present time, these Gary’s would spend not merely 1-2 years, but will be sucked in corporate life until they inevitably feel either a quarter life crisis (5-7 years down the line) or even a mid-life crisis (10+ years down the line).
This article is for all the Garys in the world who are in corporate – people who have sincerely thought of putting up their own thing, but for one reason or another (hello, fear and need for security!), have chosen to go (or remain in ) corporate. This article is meant to help prevent your entrepreneurial spirit from being COMPLETELY stamped out.
We still need you to make that leap down the line, Gary.
Calling to mind the multitude of people I’ve interviewed, the people I’ve asked to form startups with (who have since agreed or declined), my own leap from the corporate jungle, and the decade-plus years I’ve spent trying to get people into corporate (from my previous life in HR management), here’s a list of the things you need to be cognizant of in the corporation.
If you imbibe them, it can make it almost impossible for you to make that leap.
1. Don’t get used to corporate routines
Ask any startup entrepreneur about their schedule and they will tell you very quickly – every day is different. There is no discernable pattern. I could be in knee-deep recruitment in one instant, cleaning the bathroom in another, talking to a lawyer in the next, and then diving into product development right after.
An entrepreneur does THE MOST IMPORTANT ACTIVITY that needs to be done, now.
This is quite crucial because a startup is in the SURVIVAL game – it cannot afford to have its founders waffling on the most urgent matters that need to be done – just because “schedule” doesn’t dictate it.
A corporation shoves schedules in our faces. Be here at this time. Check emails at this time. Every Monday mornings, we have a team huddle. Every 15th and 30th, you need to send out this report.
There are daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual routines.
For example, in my HR life before, I already knew that during the 1st quarter we would be very busy with salary increases. 2nd quarter – recruitment and the company outing. 3rd quarter, midyear evaluations. 4th quarter, final evaluations, and the Christmas party.
When I got out of corporate, the first adjustment I had to tell myself was: I didn’t need to do particular things at particular times. (this took me weeks) I could just do WHAT I FELT was most important.
2. NEVER conclude that excessive politics are a natural characteristic of all firms
Sure, I agree.
But there is an obvious level wherein the politics become detrimental to an organization. Like you know, when a clear-cut RIGHT option is not chosen just because of politics. (undeserved promotion for a undeserving bum who kisses the boss’s ass, anyone?)
No, it doesn’t need to be that way. Great entrepreneurs understand that the RIGHT idea/choice has to take precedence over anyone’s ego or personal agenda – and they build their companies accordingly.
A big company can survive the instances of repeated bad decisions due to politics. A startup can’t.
3. NEVER Race With Speedy Gonzalez
I wonder how many people own iPhones and Samsung Galaxies by opting to take on big monthly plans they can’t afford and don’t really max out?
Why do this? Well, because everyone else is, right? We have to keep up with our peers – nay, be ahead of them!
Ah, the rat race. Corporations perpetuate this sort of culture very very strongly.
Think about it. Don’t all manager-level employees need to have a car plan? Isn’t the own condo-car dream package THE standard dream among yuppies? Why do salary increase days trigger the highest incidences of chismis in an organization?
The rat race. We focus on whatever everyone else is getting.
I remember when I left corporate, I surrendered my Nokia Communicator 9800 (or whatever – it was a yuppie status symbol at the time) to the office. With my much smaller startup salary, I was scouting for which phone to buy. To my horror, I realized I now could only afford mid-level plans and be able to secure a “low-tech” cellular (gasp!).
I was thinking to myself, “but what about my productivity?! I NEED a smartphone!”
Well, it didn’t bother my productivity one bit. I saved a couple of thousand pesos per month as well, which was crucial in my own leap.
Repeat after me:
I DON’T need a top of the line smartphone, a car, a condo, P250 meals, P150 coffee, a P50K+ laptop, or a blazing FIBR connection, or whatever it is my peers are obsessing over.
Let these be items be your reward when your startup is profitable, and not be obstacles to profitability.
4. NEVER Adopt The CYA Mentality
“Hindi na namin covered yan.”
“That’s not my responsibility.”
“It failed because ABC happened, and all ABC’s are under this other department.”
NEVER make this a habit. Might as well pour gasoline on your startup and light it up. (this will do less damage to your startup than a team of unaccountable founders)
A little accountability, a little “guys, it’s my fault” goes a LONG way in building a culture of embracing responsibility.
Remember, these things start from the guy on top. Once your employees see YOU owning up, it’ll be easier for them to do the same.
5. BE WARY of the Loss of Risk Appetite
Because innovation involves doing something new, it connotes carrying some degree of risk-taking. This is something that OBVIOUSLY should be a part of a founder’s make-up and outlook. If a certain innovation is good for the firm, then an entrepreneur would ALWAYS consider it immediately.
In corporate-land however, I’m suspecting that for a number of people in corporate, the decision making process for innovative actions are HIGHLY DICTATED by the simple diagram below, adding two more questions before one even considers the viability of the option:
Before you say, “That’s not true! That’s a hasty generalization!” Allow me to say that I think those two questions are but NATURAL for us to feel – since most of us don’t actually OWN these large corporations we work in. In your heart of hearts, do you REALLY want the MNC you report to to hit $100,000,000,000 or whatever the target is? Will you be like, all teary eyed and distraught if the target isn’t reached? Hmmm….I’d wager “I want to have a good career here” might just be the more powerful motivator.
Contrast this to a startup, where YOU CAN BE THE OWNER. In this case, your decision -making process will be a bit more robust – as your own motivations will be perfectly aligned with your startup.
Lesson here: do not allow your motivational compass to have “great salary increase” or “I don’t want to ruin this comfortable thing I have now.” as its True North. This will KILL your risk-appetite, not to mention make you very short-sighted, only going after the next salary increase. (and the next, and the next….)
Remember, while some of these things are easily observable, the way they change us is very subtle. Be on your guard and defend your entrepreneurial soul.