Earlier this week, we learned from the Federal Reserve that the U.S. economy appears to be stabilizing. That's the very good news. The not-so-good news is that many analysts expect the recovery to be a "jobless" one, at least for the next two years, and likely longer. Thus, while the economy may start coming back later this year and early next, we shouldn't expect real job growth for some time.
This is not good news for folks looking for jobs or thinking about career changes -- particularly for those in the media and ad industry, since our sector generally lags behind the overall economy by the better part of a year. However, as media and marketing companies continue to be disrupted by the Internet and digital technologies, we will certainly see a lot of "green-shoot" growth at small companies, particularly start-ups.
I generally spend between 10% to 20% of my time talking to folks about their careers -- either giving advice about potential job moves, talking up opportunities in new media and start-ups generally, or specifically recruiting folks to Simulmedia. I like doing this. I think it's important to do. Given how key start-ups are to the future of our industry, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the career tips that I give those who are considering joining start-up companies. Here they are:
1. It takes more than heart. So many folks that I talk to about leaving a big company to join a start-up tell me that they are a "start-up person at heart," and can't wait to be part of a more exciting, innovative and employee-centric business culture. While I applaud this attitude, I always have to caution them that success in start-ups takes much more than desire. It's also about what you do with your mind and body -- it's about throwing yourself at problems and solving them over and over and over again, no matter how crazy the situation is, or how badly it is going.
2. It's not about just relationships and your Rolodex; it's about delivering results and renewals. Lots of folks think that great relationships and a fat Rolodex are keys to success in transitioning from big companies to small, particularly if you are in sales or business development. It's not that simple. When you work for a big company, everybody wants to work with you. When you move to a small firm, the value that you carry in your bag every day is measured by the actual results that you can deliver for customers and partners. Renewals define value in start-ups, not first-time test sales. Delivering renewals require much more than glad-handing. It requires really understanding your customers, their needs and your product -- and obsessing over customer service.
3. Add value every day. No one in a start-up should ever be surprised if they are fired or laid-off. You are too close to the marketplace and your product offering and your management to be caught unaware, unless you're not paying attention. You have to ask yourself every day how much real value you created that day, and make yourself essential. Small companies can't support the dead weight that big companies tend to get bloated with.
4. Create your own feedback mechanisms. Most start-ups don't have the same kind of rigorous employee evaluation systems that big companies do. In start-ups, you generally have to create your own mechanisms to judge how well you are doing. You have to ask for feedback, not wait for it. You have to be self-aware. Most of the biggest failures that I have seen in folks who couldn't successfully transition from big companies fell short in this area. Years of pleasing bosses created an emotional need for systematic (and frequently substantively empty) feedback that is not replicated at most start-ups.
5. Be both tactical and strategic. In big companies, you can be great at strategy and be successful. Likewise, you can be great at certain tactics and be successful. Not so in most start-ups. You need some degree of expertise in both. Tacticians who don't see the big picture will find themselves building things that the market doesn't need, waiting for feedback from a manager that may never come. Strategists who can't get stuff done on their own find themselves doing deals that will never see completion -- and a company full of people too busy to hear about their next great idea.
6. It's worth it. Yes, it can be very hard to transition from a big company to a start-up. It can be scary, aggravating and emotionally wrenching. But it can also be extraordinary. You can get things done that you could never do at large companies. You see personal contributions get noticed and rewarded. It can be very tough, but the upside outweighs the downside if you have the patience and fortitude to work your way through it.
What do you think? What other lessons about startups can you offer? Please share them in the Comments section.