in Career Advice, Personal, Professional Issues, Startups

Why Starting a Company is LESS Risky than a Traditional Career

pathStartups are known to be risky.

It makes sense. They come with a healthy dose of uncertainty, leaps of faith and an extremely high chance of failure.

So yes, they are risky…but only in the short run. 

The problem is a lot of people ONLY think about the short-term risk.  In the long run, I’d argue that startups are much less risky for young professionals than the alternative, traditional route.

See I fully expect to take on a full-time job one day in the future. I see the time I’m spending now building my own startups as an investment in that future.

How many people decide not to pursue their dream of creating something because they weighed the risk vs reward and it just wasn’t worth it?

How many people follow the normal path of going to college, getting a job, and working your way up the ladder because that’s what “playing it safe” looks like? They’d go the startup route but the career risk is just too high, some people even can’t stand the stress to do this and their health end up suffering, of course others decide to take care of their health, taking an uric acid supplement to keep their levels normal.

I don’t think that’s a bad approach. I have a great deal of respect for those who pursue the more traditional route and their ability to do so successfully.  I just think it’s often misguided by a false perception of risk.

Why Startups are the SAFE Bet…

If you stick to the traditional plan, you’ll be on par with every other person that sticks to that plan.  You’ll be exactly where they are.  You’ll be exactly as hirable as them and exactly as fireable.

You’ll have the same skills and level of experience as everyone else that has chosen to follow the same path as you.

Yes, you’ll have some money saved up, you’ll have a stable growth plan and you’ll know exactly where you might be in 3-20 years. That is, unless something changes.  The economy can change.  Industries might shift. Your life might change and you’ll realize, even after 10 years, this path just isn’t for you.  If you invested a significant amount of time into building that specific skill for that specific industry in that specific economy, you are now essentially starting from scratch.

Now lets say you go the startup route.  No, you won’t have much money saved up.  You probably won’t have a clear growth plan.  You definitely won’t know where you’ll be in 20 years.

What you will have is a great deal of experience that makes you extremely hirable.

You’ll have the ability to adapt and self-motivate.

You’ll have a wide range of skills in multiple verticals and a deeper understanding of how they fit together.

You’ll have communication skills that you’ve developed based on trial and error rather than an externally imposed system.

You’ll have management skills, with the power to inspire, motivate and execute.

You’ll know the taste of failure so well that you’ll have no problem challenging it head on.

You’ll be a leader.

In the long run, who’s at greater risk?  Who would YOU rather hire? The person who followed the same path as everyone else around them?  Or the person who created their own path and has the battle scars to prove it?

What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger. The startup founder, while taking a lot of risk in the short-run, knows that in the long run, they’re going to be MUCH stronger.

Pursuing a traditional career path at this early stage in my career? That’s way to risky for me.

 

 

Photo Cred: Spunfunkster via Compfight cc

 

  • http://janetaronica.com/ JanetAronica

    Regarding if you are hireable after your startup – I can’t weigh in as a founder, but I can weigh in as someone who has started her career taking on the role as 1st marketing hire for a few early stage places. 
    Being the first marketing hire helped me grow into a self-sufficient marketing generalist. It also gave me the opportunity to do a lot of business development – which I really like and plan to do again sometime. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to grow as a manager in ways that I absolutely 100% would not have if I started my career at a big company. I find it unbelievably fulfilling to coach someone, see them take on a project and then absolutely kick ass at it. I feel completely blessed that I didn’t have to wait until I was 35 to experience that part of my career.
    Last year I was a little burned out on the the early stage life and needed more stability. I also was burned out on cranking out content and wanted to expand my experience into a more metrics-focused and strategic role. I sought out Demand Generation (specialist/manager/director – title wasn’t as important to me, learning was) positions that would allow me to work more with Salesforce, Marketo, a marketing budget and more closely with a sales team. I viewed this as a necessary stepping stone toward becoming a VP of Marketing one day – the ultimate career goal. But several of the VP’s of Marketing at companies I applied to or interviewed at weren’t so impressed with the early stage experience. They preferred my big company counterparts – folks who had a consistent track record of demand gen excellence at big companies. I can’t say anyone was all that willing to just take a chance on my tenacity and simply “hope” that if put in the role and the right situation, I’d just “figure it out” like I had done before. I was obviously disappointed that I wasn’t being considered for what I felt was that next step in my career
    In the end though, I think it turned out for the best: I found a content marketing role where I could further prove specific experience in a specialty that I had already developed. The role was on a team where a demand gen hire was planned all along to complement the content marketing hire. Now, as the content marketing manager, I get to work alongside a woman (the demand gen role) who has done the demand gen for years and years. Instead of gaining experience the way I have been – by trial and error – I get to learn directly from her. It’s actually going a lot faster this way 🙂  
    My advice to folks trying to progress away the early stager role would be to be flexible! Don’t be stubborn. Stay focused on what you want to learn and what you want to get out of your big company or bigger startup job, and focus so hard on that that you open yourself to the idea that there are a lot of different ways for you to achieve that outcome – such as taking a different type of role or working for a different kind of company that you initially intended. And don’t be discouraged by people who don’t appreciate early stage experience, tenacity or what your bring to the table from your startup experience. You don’t want to work for those people anyway 🙂

    • http://whatspinksthinks.com/ DavidSpinks

      JanetAronica hey Janet! Thanks for sharing your story.  Totally see what you’re saying about the value from being able to learn with significant resources, and someone to learn directly from.  That’s certainly one aspect I’ve felt I’ve lacked in my career, having mostly worked on startups.
      Curious to hear more about your experience interviewing for VP of Marketing roles.  What were the reasons that people gave for not selecting you for the role?

      • http://janetaronica.com/ JanetAronica

        DavidSpinks JanetAronica Hey! I haven’t interviewed for a VP of Marketing role – working up to that eventually. I was trying to get a Demand Generation Manager/Specialist or Director role – title wasn’t as important to me, just learning was.
        Reasons were mostly that I didn’t have an already proven track record of success in a demand generation role – they wanted someone who had done the job before and could dive in and do the same thing they did before, only at a new company. The proven track record of success in other (related) areas of marketing weren’t enough to get me the gig.

      • http://janetaronica.com/ JanetAronica

        DavidSpinks JanetAronica Hey! I haven’t interviewed for a VP of Marketing role – working up to that eventually. I was trying to get a Demand Generation Manager/Specialist or Director role – title wasn’t as important to me, just learning was.
        Reasons were mostly that I didn’t have an already proven track record of success in a demand generation role – they wanted someone who had done the job before and could dive in and do the same thing they did before, only at a new company. The proven track record of success in other (related) areas of marketing weren’t enough to get me the gig.

  • clayhebert

    Spot on, brother. As Seth Godin says, “the riskiest thing you can do is to be safe and the safest thing you can do is to be risky.” 10,000 people who did exactly what they were told at Ford Motor Company all lost their jobs on the same day. They were being “safe”. In a world where we’re all slowly becoming entrepreneurs and freelancers, it’s smart (and safe) to start building those skills as soon as possible. 
    Great post.

    • http://whatspinksthinks.com/ DavidSpinks

      clayhebert Thanks for reading Clay. Lets catch up soon (=

  • 369aran

    Why is it going to college and getting a job OR starting your own business the only possibilities? You can get a very good education, be employed, gain experience and insights from working for established businesses and THEN open your own business. In fact, most start up founders fail precisely because of that attitude, they seem too good to spend any time learning. I would rather learn on other people’s money (that is, employed and paid by someone else) and then use that experience and perhaps many others, for my own business.