Company founders who are serious about success need strong department-managers to help them mould their ideas into a solid organisation. Is that a role you can see yourself fulfilling? asks Jeffery Bussgang, writing for Harvard Business Review.
An expert in entrepreneurial management and a serial venture capitalist, Bussgang knows the pitfalls and the potential rewards. He has drawn on his extensive experience to identify key characteristics and skills you need to thrive in a startup executive role.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge into this a richly rewarding world:
1) Can you cope with fluidity? Everything is untried and untested in a startup business and there’s experimentation and uncertainty around every corner. Even your own role could be only loosely defined to begin with.
2) Are you always looking for answers? A positive, problem-solving focus is ideal for a startup. If you believe obstacles are there to be overcome, and that solutions should not only work but be sustainable, then you’re in the right zone.
3) Could you invest emotionally in someone else’s business? A new enterprise needs people who really care about building its success – not just your work and department, but each and every area of the company. Bussgang, inspired by his own entrepreneurial father, says the question you should be willing to ask is: “What can I personally do to make this place even more awesome?”
THE NEXT STEPS
Once you’re confident that a startup position could be for you, how do you go about finding the best fit? Bussgang has narrowed down some criteria you can use to pinpoint companies that would be worth investing your time in.
1) Focus on a field that really excites you. Narrow down the brands you respect or aspire to, the news topics that grab your attention, the websites you are drawn to. Bussgang recommends choosing a maximum of three domains.
2) Pinpoint a location with potential for you. Some of you won’t have this flexibility, but if you are able to choose where to live and work, then the world is your oyster. In the USA, Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and Los Angeles have energetic startup cultures in different disciplines; and in Europe and the Middle East, Berlin and Tel Aviv – the global cybersecurity capital – are hotspots. Building relationships in these key places can offer you broad scope for career development.
3) Decide which startup phase suits you. Bussgang calls the initial stages of a new business the “jungle”, “dirt road” and “highway”. Jungle is the pre-product stage – ideal if you’re happy hacking through the undergrowth to make a fresh path. The dirt road is still bumpy, but you know your product and target market and have an eye on growth. On the highway, the road ahead is fast, clear and much more stable – possibly at the point of stock-market launch.
4) Thoroughly research your target companies. Get help to identify a startup that could be massively successful. Ask experts in your chosen field and location – venture capitalists, headhunters, startup lawyers, angel investors – to name their top three. Do your homework on this shortlist, looking at the strength of the core team and their vision; the potential for disruption and success in that particular market; the business model and unit economics.
GETTING THE JOB
Now you know which startups you would like to work with, it’s time to persuade one of them to hire you. Bussgang recommends the personal touch in preference to cold calling:
1) Look for connections. Check out details of the company and its executives on business sites like Crunchbase and Mattermark. Then use LinkedIn to find employees with whom you share mutual contacts or friends and ask them to introduce you to the company executives and endorse your assets.
2) Make your pitch irresistible. Startups need people with skills and ideas to push the business forward. Arm yourself with as much information on the company as possible and try out the product yourself. When you secure an interview or meeting, make it clear you have done your homework by talking enthusiastically about the company’s work and presenting a specific suggestion for improvement.
Committing to the startup scene is always a risk and a challenge but, with the right research and attitude, it can offer the kind of professional and personal satisfaction that is hard to find in the larger corporate world.