With the dramatic change in the start-up climate in India, at least in some of the major metros, spear-headed by Bengaluru, there is a very pertinent question for people entering the job market or who are already working for a large company. Should they take the plunge into the topsy-turvy world of start-ups? Or work for a large company before pursuing the entrepreneurial dreams?
The answer unfortunately is not a black and white one. To add to the confusion, there are these wild success stories where whiz-kids have building deca-corns straight out of college or not even finishing college. These are outliers, for every hugely successful company started by a whiz-kid, there are a thousand other sustainable and meaningful businesses built. Also remember that the average age of an entrepreneur is close to 35 in spite of the headline grabbing whiz-kids. Speaking from the battlefield, I can assure you that for every college drop-out that is grabbing the headlines there are hundreds who are floundering. I will give you my view/opinion on why one should work for a large company before doing a start-up.
Working for a large company is like attending finishing school. One coming out of a college is generally ignorant of the language, protocols, processes of building and running a business/organisation. Here’s why I think one should work for a large company before doing a start-up:
1. Large companies have structured training programs in technology, business processes, Human resource management, and Intellectual property etc., which will help you train on the various/diverse skill set necessary for setting and running an organisation.
2. You get to meet experienced smart people who have made landmark contributions in developing the state-of-the-art. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet a legend whose name appears before the algorithm you studied in your final year?
3. You get access to expensive equipment and tools and practical experience working on them. Do you know the cost of a Fixed Ion Beam machine or a 100 GHz scope with a differential probe or the license cost of CAD design tools?
4. You make connections with people inside and outside the company, which will come in very handy when you are our on your own. Especially software and hardware vendors, who will come in very handy in giving out demo or evaluation licenses when you get on your own.
5. You have access to large capital, which will help you to do far-reaching things in life than when you are on your own. Some things today need expensive equipment, large teams and lots of investment. R&D on fundamental stuff like energy (storage and generation), material science, large computer science projects etc does need the backing of large organisations.
6. The scope of projects that one can work on in large companies is huge. You can make a huge impact to this world in the area the company is working on.
7. Many companies have intrapreneur programs, which will give you the opportunities to test the murky waters of entrepreneurship with the safety net of the large company systems.
8. You get to travel to many places and first hand learn the culture, opportunities and the ways of foreign culture/systems, which I believe is extremely important in a globalized environment.
9. Working for large or small companies will let you discover yourself. Maybe you are a better fit in small groups, frequent collaboration opportunities, more relaxed company atmospheres or a loner who treads his own path.
10. Large corporate do provide “rotation” programs, where one gets to work in various departments, typically for 2-3 years and then decide to pick a line of work. This is an extremely useful training ground for business leaders.
11. This might be on the sly, there could be other wannabe entrepreneurs in a large company, who are looking to do something on their own, and you could join that group. Many billion dollar companies have been built this way from Intel to Infosys and many others.
We read a lot about start-ups and stuff, mostly about fame and money, but trust me these are outliers, the reality is that starting a business is always a huge risk and the outcome governed by externalities one cannot control. Starting a business also means sacrifices for 5-10 years with no guaranteed outcome.
There is always another alternative. Instead of working for a large company one can consider working for a early stage start-up, which is reasonably funded and experience the growth journey.
Like any choice you make, there is always a risk associated with it. The risks are arguably low in a large company or a funded start-up, but your equity opportunity is low. As the saying goes, read the fine print before you sign up.
Start-ups in my opinion are measured on three things, value, uniqueness and traction. Unless you have something that is compelling on all the vectors, which is hard in my opinion - be careful before you make the plunge.
In the end, it is a very personal decision, but whatever path you take, make sure your heart and mind are set onto it because the ride will always be bumpy and interesting.
Based on my experience (after working for large companies for close to two decades), one should always experience the start-up journey at least once in your lifetime. It is invigorating to the body and soul, gets your creative juices flowing, very painful and yet extremely satisfying. It definitely gives a boost to your career and there is a small chance that you might actually make some money, but in my opinion that is beside the point.