The conclusion I have come to is this: I would be better working with older, experienced people at a start-up. A lot depends as well on what function you are working in – Sales & Marketing, Product Development, Finance and Operations. I think mainly in Finance, Operations and Sales.
There are a lot of start-ups in London now – and all are not created equal. I’ve seen some fantastic ones and some misguided ones with the business model having some clear flaws. My concern on these ones was (I was in an empathetic type mood!) – the reality is some of these firms are bound to fail; however, will the execs who are left afterwards be better or worse for the experience? Of course, at this point it is easy go down the route of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” “they will have gained great all-round experience at a start-up” etc. Frankly, this is fanciful thinking. To get valid experience you need to be IN business (i.e., making actual sales, working with clients, dealing with contracts, project managing product development etc.) If a start-up is limping along without serious traction and surviving hand-to-mouth, chances are most of the top execs are spending the majority of time fundraising from angels. This is not something you should be doing long-term. It’s soul destroying.
On the flipside, if you are doing well – a start-up will be wonderful – good morale, cross-functional experience and opportunity for huge earnings with your equity.
So the morale of the story – an employee must vet a start-up like an angel or VC fund does, but go a step further. Look at where you are in your career and your skill set, and at the people in the organisation. Are they really top executives who can execute and whom you can learn from? If they are – even if it fails, you will have learned a lot.
The pillars of any business exec (Sales, Biz Dev, Finance, Operations) are simple things for me:
- Project Management Capability –planning and executing workloads including management of others, plus measurement of outcomes - typical course in PRINCE2
- Ability with Tools – CRM, Accounting, ERP, Project Management
- Organisational Capability – running concise meetings, taking minutes, planning and executing
- Analytical Capability - ability with tools like excel, financial knowledge
- Sales Ability and Knowledge –ability to close, ability with contracts , customer service etc.
- Strategic Ability – come from use of frameworks – learning to use them correctly – from SWOT to business model canvas
As I well know from personal experience - these are areas which need to be constantly improved upon and if you are not improving – then, you are becoming stagnant, and you need to challenge yourself by moving on in other ways.
By John Rowland, Managing Partner