How To Choose A NEF Host Company


This post is mainly aimed at people who have recently got a place on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (congrats btw). However, there will be some points which are relevant to anyone who is weighing up whether to take a new job role, and the post is somewhat a crystallisation of what I wrote 6 months ago before choosing my own host company to work with.

In this post, we’ll go over what things to consider when choosing a company, and in the next, we’ll cover what practical steps you can take towards getting the role you want.

For this, I have spoken to a number of people who have been through NEF, and varying degrees of experiences with their host companies.

 

Starting out

Don’t just jump in and take the first offer you get. This is a big choice about the direction that you choose to take your career, so chat to a few people you respect to get their view on it. It can be very flattering to get a job offer, but be sure that it’s the right thing for you to do before you sign on the dotted line…

In either case, something I find useful is to fastforward where you want to be in 1/3/5 years time, and then work back and see if this choice will help/ hinder you getting there. It can give clarity when there’s seemingly infinite moving parts in your decision, and also helps you focus on what you want to achieve.

 

General advice

This is applicable for any role you take, but nevertheless, worth keeping in mind when it comes to the matchmaking process.

Do you respect your Manager/ CEO?

I’ve put this first, as it seems to be the number one reason that placements have gone wrong.

In any role you take at this stage in your career, there is a lot of learning to be done. Will you be open to taking on feedback from your manager? Or will you find yourself resenting what they have to say?

Of course, at this stage it is purely speculative, but some questions you can ask yourself/ others in the team are: do they have a track record of success/ good contacts/ impressive skill set that you can benefit from?

Do you “click” with the team?

Can you see yourself looking forward to hearing what your team got up to at the weekend? If you’re going to be spending the majority of your waking hours with these guys, it’s important that at a minimum, you can share a tea break with them. Ask to meet the guys in your immediate team, and if possible have a coffee/ beer to see what they think of working there.

Would you invest in the company?

It’s important to believe in the company that you work for. On a NEF placement especially, it won’t just be about getting a salary, there will be a bigger picture behind it. If you fundamentally don’t believe that the company will succeed, then raise it in your interview and see what their response is.

If you can’t be persuaded by the founder, then you’ll have a hard time convincing others who talk with about the viability of the business, which isn’t a good sign.

What skills can I develop here?

There are a couple of approaches here: refine existing skills, or plug a gap in your skill set. Have a think about what sorts of skills you want to have down the line, and then work out if this role will allow you to do so.

Don’t take a role of taking over the company Twitter account if social media marketing isn’t really your thing. However, if you can see scope in moving into a different business area, then discuss it in your interview, and perhaps you can move on there.

 

NEF-centric advice

The NEF placement is an interesting beast. You have 12 months working with a company with the intent of learning how to build a scalable business. This can be done in a number of different ways, though it would be fair to say that not all placements/ placement companies offer the same.

Here are some considerations to take, based on conversations with current NEFers, and NEF alumni.

Size of company

This is probably the easiest way to distinguish between the types of companies that are on offer. I’ll go through some pros and cons of the 3 main stages:

Early stage (Lifescaped, HaikuJam, DoingSomething)

  • +ves: Exciting to find product/ market fit. Work closely with founders. Great opportunity to directly impact the company
  • -ves: No guarantee of success. Company might not survive 12 months. Probably won’t have structures to learn from.

Scaling up (Metcalfe’s, Dyn, Virgin Pure)

  • +ves: A stage all successful companies go through. Lots of opportunity to see big return on decisions. Company structures coming in place.
  • -ves: Direct manager unlikely to be the Founder. Likely to be completing a function. Less influence on company strategy.

Established (TalkTalk, Betfair, Travelex)

  • +ves: See best practices. Learn from a fully functioning company that’s “made it”. Paths to grow internally.
  • -ves: Chance of getting lost in bureaucracy. Could be seen as just another employee. Removed from the skills required to set up a business.

Job role

The company you interview with will somewhat dictate the type of roles that will be on offer. Nevertheless, there are some things that you can look out for, and consider whether they will be best for you.

Complete a function

You will (one would hope) develop a level of expertise over the year if you work on a specific element of the business. This is useful if it’s a skill that’s not unique to your company (i.e. digital marketing), as it means that by the end, you have something transferable to other ventures you might wish to work on

Get an overview

The flipside is that by working within one section of a business, you miss the wider strategy of where the company is going. Placements that shadow a CEO get this, however it is arguably at the expense of tangible skills.

Hours

It’s likely that throughout your year you’ll want to start, or work on, ventures outside of your day job. Get a feel for how likely this is going to be. From experience, companies where other employees are in it for the wage have a culture of leaving at 6pm. Working there would mean you get time to work in the evenings on your ideas. The more ‘startup’ a company is, the more you might want to work into the evenings yourself, which would eat into your own business time.

Sector

Through the workshops, you’ll learn (or rather be told) the benefits of developing knowledge within a sector. If there is an industry that you know you’d like to be an expert in, then you can try and find companies within it to interview with.

From the 2014 Class, Greg Aubert got a place working for ATD Travel Services, and has now become the go to man if ever anyone has a question about the travel sector.

I’m hesitant to place too much emphasis on this point though, because a lot of the skills you can learn are not sector dependent. Greg Drach is the guy to ask about gamification, despite working for a cycling company. And one of our friends’ business mentor, Brett Akker, said in one of the talks how he has found an incredible enthusiasm for self-storage since launching his latest venture…

What I’ve learned

The above are some of the ways that you can organise your thoughts when it comes to deciding what (NEF) company you’d like to work for. I thought I’d add a few things that have only come to light after nearing the end of the course.

  1. Your manager is a key determinant. This is a repeat, but from experience, your relationship with your manager/founder is the strongest correlation with how much people have enjoyed/ got out of their placements.
  2. Smaller companies offer options. If you’re one of the first 10 employees of a company, it is probable that you will be offered some equity in the company. This is usually only redeemable after a few years so, assuming all goes well, you may wish to stay to see it through. This can mean that you might not be starting your own venture for a few years, so think about it if you have itchy feet to start your own business.
  3. Think of other commitments. How engrossed in the business do you want to be? There are a finite number of hours in a week, and so if you throw yourself into a placement business, this will likely be at the expense of other ventures/ socialising you might want to do. Some roles are suited for being out and about, whereas others require a hard slog of putting the hours in. Is this compatible with how you want your year to be?

What others in the cohort have learned

I posed the question to the alumni what advice they had for people about to embark on choosing their host company. It’s all good stuff, give it a read

 

“Make sure you are as open minded as possible, don’t judge the company by the industry, I kicked up a fuss about having to interview with metrobank because I don’t want to get into banking and wrote my diss on retail banking and online platforms….so didn’t understand a new high street bank! However it seems to have been a good placement! – I was too fussy and picky and ended up panicking at last minute and having to arrange Virgin in week before! – and although great company my job there was terrible …..so after that long rant, I would just emphasis be open minded, its only 12 months!”

“Make sure from the outset expectations and objectives are set from both sides!”

“I would encourage people to talk to employees in the companies ang gauge how they are feeling. If you are replacing someone ask to talk to them. And also ask questions in interview such as ‘what is the turn over in staff?’. ‘How will work come to me/how much opportunity will I have for taking the initiative?’. I.e. to be a bit more probing about the business because small businesses can be very variable!”

“Understand what it is they want, who you are going to be working with, when looking for jobs you can tend to jump at first offers and put yourself out to much in the hope of getting the job. This is of course essential but you cant overdo your diligence of the company.”

“For me believing in the product/service that the company is selling is critical, knowing this now I would ensure I am fully onboard with the company from this perspective and most importantly don’t be blinded by working for a great brand name or highly reputed entrepreneur, focus on the value you think you can get from the role on offer and opportunities that will come from that role.”

“Make sure that the host company is fully on board with the program. Ask what they expect you doing for the 12 months. Take the company size to consideration because entrepreneurship may mean something else in a bigger company!”

“Don’t just get to grips with the company as a whole, get a solid understanding of what your role would be within it, and what product/service you’re going to put your name to, because excitement and belief in that is what’s going to keep you going in long hours and tough weeks”

Be resilient, and stick to your strengths

 

Conclusion

Finding a company/ companies that you think will be good for you is ultimately your own decision, but I hope this post has stressed the importance of not just jumping into the first offer that you receive. There is always more your detail, and analysis you can go into, and there’s certainly not a formula for it. Nevertheless, surfacing some the key differences should hopefully give clarity to your thoughts.

If you’re thinking of practical ways to find a host company, or seal the deal with one that you like, then please do read the following post.

 

If you have any questions about this, please either leave a comment below, or reach out to me via samuel.floy[@]gmail.com – I’m more than happy to help.