So what do you do?
A pretty paralysing question I was faced with a few times last night when at a friend’s house party (“house party” – God, I sound 14).
Similar to a conversation I had with a couple of other NEFers last week, my answer is definitely not “I’m an entrepreneur”. That is a title that I don’t think should be self-appointed, and at the very least should only be ascribed once you’ve financially supported yourself for a good few years.
Instead I say “I work with startups”
Quite a catch-all phrase, that doesn’t mean too much, but implies that you don’t wear a suit.
A more pressing question was – “well why do you do it?”
And this again was followed by a bit of a pause.
To give some context, a lot of friends have gone the route that I was seriously considering taking: joining a large company, have them invest resources into you, and then leave to think about next steps. It is such a well-trodden path that there is often confusion as to why I’ve not taken it as well. I think if things don’t go the way I want them to, I will also get back on that the road, albeit a little behind the rest of the pack.
So, why have I chosen to do what I’m doing?
In short, it’s about taking risks.
I thought about what what my end game was in my career (to run my own company), and then worked backwards. There were a number of career roads that wouldn’t allow this for a long time (Law, Equity Trading etc) so I discounted them. Some offered the chance to learn these skills (Investment Banking, Accountancy) but I felt it would be a while before I get to the brunt of the action. The closest I road I got to taking was that of Strategy Consultancy – but still it would be a while before I could be making my mark.
So the answer for me was to work with small companies ASAP. Learn some practical skills, meet some people who have even more practical skills, and start to get the ball rolling on a few of my ideas.
The downside to this path is that if it all flops, you’re left without money and you’ve spent a lot of your time.
For me, I’m taking this risk now, rather than when I’m older, have a family, a mortgage, and would have to make a difficult career decision. If everything doesn’t work right now, I can take some form of employment and eat beans on toast for a year.
And that was my answer really – to get some great business experience when I had little to lose.
Some people saw it all as very exciting, courageous, or even as a noble thing to do. However, I don’t really do it for those reasons, it’s more that I can get up, do something every day, and see the difference that it makes in the world.
For now at least, I couldn’t imagine doing anything different.