I remember when I told my colleagues at work that I would leave Google to pursue an MBA, people shared my happiness, but they were also surprised. Given the hands-on, creative, entrepreneurial image they had of me, they always imagined – almost expected – that I would leave the corporate life for the garage life, to start my own company. Yet that path was not any consideration for me at that time.
Today, things are different. I am 31 years old and after multiple stints in the corporate tech world (which for me is anything that is 1 to 100, not 0 to 1), I finally feel ready. In the following I am going to talk a little about the notion of “Entrepreneurial Readiness.”
I strongly believe in the notion of experiential readiness. Entrepreneurship has been and still is a very hot topic. It’s a popular thing to do. After hearing all the “dropped out of college and then started a successful company” stories, it’s just so natural to imagine yourself doing the same. But do you really have the right experience to do so?
When college students ask me whether they should go an start a company straight out of college, I advise against it. I strongly believe there is a lot to be gained and learned in working in the corporate world for a few years. You learn about organizational structures, incentive systems, management styles, company goals, resource allocation decisions, as well as all its daily challenges around bureaucracy and politics. Not always fun experiences, but insanely valuable ones. These experiences are important for when you are actually starting your own company. The more you know, the less likely you are to make wrong decisions that could kill your company.
There is plenty of studies that suggest that those who are successful founders are not straight out of college, but on average in their 40s (Harvard Business Review claims its 45 years). You could argue this is because they have a better network or are more credible when they go fundraising. While I think those are valid arguments, I believe that at its core it’s their experience that makes them more likely to succeed.
There is a second type of readiness which is motivational readiness. Speaking from my own experience, I was not ready to start something after college, not ready after Google, and also not ready after my MBA. I always aspired to be an entrepreneur, but there was a gap between that aspiration and my readiness for it. I could have forced it, by throwing myself at it, but I always knew I still had to nurture that readiness.
Things are different today. I am willing to take the risk, willing to take that salary cut, willing to work those extra hours, willing to not be protected by a strong employer brand anymore, willing to have to watch my expenses, willing to fully throw myself behind something I believe in. That’s a level of motivation that had to be nurtured.
At Google, as exciting as my work was, it was always a small contribution to the whole. In the context of the entire company, my work was meaningful, but insignificant. This nurtured my desire to be in work environments where my contributions would matter ore. At Ofo, I would sometimes work until 5am, writing contracts for global deals we were doing. I was doing this enthusiastically, but I would still go to bed and wonder what it would be like to put all that effort into my own idea one day, not someone else’s idea. If it wasn't for those experiences then, I wouldn't have that readiness now.
I think there is a third type of readiness for people who are considering entrepreneurship. It’s financial readiness. I think at different stages in your career, you will be optimizing for different things.
The first few years of my career I was optimizing for safety. I wanted to work for a big brand and build up my reputation. I wanted that organizational support and mentorship. That came with a safe salary, and little equity. But it allowed me to build up savings that would later help me finance my MBA.
Today, I am optimizing for different things. I want to maximize my upside and gain experience building something from 0 to 1. And once there, I want to grow a brand from 1 to 100 so that it, too, can give organizational support and mentorship to others. And for that, I know that I will have to live with a 60%+ pay-cut, or with many months or even years without accumulating savings. But that’s fine, because today I am finally ready to exchange these conditions for the upside – the financial upside, and the experiential one.
By the way, you might have noticed that I didn’t use the word “start-up” in my article. To be honest, I don’t like that word. It’s overused, and to me, the notion of “starting something up” doesn’t embody the longevity I hope to instill into any of the business ventures I aspire to found.