In Defense of Joining a Startup (vs Founding)
I had a few conversations this week with a few of my students at CMU about what they want to do after graduation. The “career conversation” is one of my favorite privileges as a professor.
Specifically I value this because of a few of my core beliefs:
- I believe we are all wired to want to have a career that lets us create and as Steve Jobs said “dent the universe.”
- Entrepreneurship is a special opportunity to do this as you get to be part of organizations that make the world the way it ought to be.
So when a student asks to get together and have a career conversation, I consider it a real privilege to help reinforce those above truths and help them realize they don’t want to join that big consulting firm or large tech company where they will be a cog in a large machine.
As entrepreneurship increases in popularity as a career path, I’ve realized there is a new choice that students are thinking through: joining a startup versus starting one right out of school.
For many of my students they have an idea they are so passionate about the only real solid advice I can provide is encouraging them to pursue it.
However, I have found myself also defending the strategy of joining an early stage startup. I find myself recommending this a lot when the student is searching for an idea they can get passionate about. It seems to surprise them that I’d encourage them to look at someone else’s idea to see if it sparks that passion. Upon reflection I think this is because some of the benefits of joining a startup are a little less obvious. Specifically, I’m thinking about:
- The ability to learn from a team of other entrepreneurs. This is especially compelling when that startup contemplated being joined has a really strong CEO who can be a great mentor. Certainly in my case, I benefited greatly early in my career from some amazing mentors including Dave Mawhinney.
- The ability to see more of the lifecycle of a startup and have a better understanding of what “progress” ultimately looks like.
- The ability to dent the universe. This last one is especially easy to overlook as we tend to glorify founders, but that early team beyond the founders still has a HUGE impact of the businesses ultimate trajectory.
There are others as well, but those are the big ones in my mind. To wrap this up, I’ve been encouraged my students earlier this week to watch this short talk by Jack Dorsey from Disrupt 2012. I think Jack sums it up well.