[This post is part of a series on four main myths that discourage entrepreneurship and how to overcome them. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Myth 2: Working for an established company helps prepare you for starting a venture
Why this belief is a myth is subtle. Working somewhere is better than nothing, but better than nothing is not a meaningful comparison.
First a few words on why people believe this myth. Many people say they want to start a company soon, just after building more experience in the working world. I think their main motivation for this belief was that they know established firms hire. Following the well-worn and apparently risk-free path would lead to a job (we’ll examine how risk-free this path is in a later myth). Why not call that job part of the path to their professed dreams? I suspect fear is at the root of this part of their motivation.
They also often compare taking a job at a major firm for a year against one of two meaningless comparisons: either doing nothing or the success they expect in a venture’s first year. the root of these comparison is improper analysis. They rarely compare apples to apples.People who don’t voice their fears may not realize they invalidity of their comparison and, unaware of their own motivations, may act on it, so it helps to examine the comparisons.
In the first comparison, if you compare working at an established firm for a year then starting a company against sitting on your butt for a year before starting a company, then working at the company is more helpful. But no one would do nothing instead of working at an established company. That comparison isn’t helpful.
In the second comparison, people compare their chance of success starting a venture right away to starting it after a year at an established firm for a year. Again, that comparison isn’t apples-to-apples. They’re comparing year 1 of the venture to year 1 of the venture post working at an established company. The year at the established firm gave one choice an extra year advantage.
The apples-to-apples comparison is to include that year experience to both choices. What else could they have done in that year? How about attempting a venture?
If that venture succeeds, starting it was a great choice. You may never switch to a different one. If it doesn’t succeed as a business, you still succeeded as an entrepreneur.
Your first venture may never take off. It may even go bankrupt. You may never be able to explain any value that came of it to anyone, but you will have gained experience, skills, connections, and innumerable other things that only a failure from trying in a passion of yours can teach.
Many established-company skills and contacts will be useless or counterproductive for entrepreneurship. None of the entrepreneurial one will be. You may make rookie mistakes in your first venture in that first year. But nothing teaches you entrepreneurial skills and builds entrepreneurial networks like starting a venture. And all those rookie mistakes — making them is essential. You can’t get around making some of them, so better to make them early, before you build inertia in an established company.
Most importantly, if you love entrepreneurship, you will have loved the experience, independent of the outward business success or failure. If you find you don’t like entrepreneurship, at least you learned it early. You’ll still benefit in having those entrepreneurial skills and experience in your career. Few established firms say they want to be less entrepreneurial. You’ll have peace of mind that you don’t like it from experience instead of forever wondering what if.
If it wasn’t already clear, this myth is counterproductive because it leads you to put off developing essential entrepreneurial skills and experiences. If you fear rookie mistakes, you’ll likely fear them more the more you’re established elsewhere.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees