How I Transitioned from Corporate to Entrepreneurial World

The way we’ve managed businesses, thought of careers, invested time in ourselves, is changing rapidly. It’s been constantly changing but the realisation and the acknowledgement of the pace of the change and people’s response to reinvent are on an all-time high. I thought about it for a long time before making a career switch and through this post, I’d like to share my experience and learnings with those thinking, debating, planning the same – Those who are fence sitting between large corporate roles and entrepreneurial options.

When I decided to transition from corporate roles to being an entrepreneur back in October 2016, I gave myself two years to acclimatise. To re-invent, one must unlearn, observe, build a hypothesis and test them in the real world. If one gets a chance to do this in the company of successful entrepreneurs, embrace it with both hands and experience the startup ecosystem from within – that was my measured call, not to rush in on sheer bravado but acclimatise by being with a successful startup and bring my experience to the table and help both business and self-growth.

Before pacing this further, for a moment let’s reflect on why I decided to walk away from large corporate profiles:

  1. I had completed a decade of corporate work with 2 large brands in Telecom & IT – Perhaps I was lucky to have the experiences I did, the decade surely seemed to have taught me a lot.
  2. There was a sense of accomplishment sets in – More of the same was certainly not exciting anymore.
  3. My hypothesis that large corporate roles with hundreds of reporters and complex matrix equations would evolve – Important to learn the tricks of a younger startup ecosystem.
  4. The desire to build a business that was a balance of clear unserviced need and genuine long-term impact – Put the decade of corporate experience to use.
  5. Build a fresh young team that enjoys working together – Individuals who’re flexible, sharp and unexposed to large corporate culture.
  6. Create something with more skin in the game – Risk & reward proposition can spin wonders.

It took me a few months of back and forth to finally walk from my job in the middle of 2017. Which means that come March 2019 I would complete the acclimatisation period of 24 months I set aside for myself. Therefore, a good time to plan for the future and reflect upon the transition.

As I reflect upon the transition period, I’ll bucket my thoughts into two categories:

(A) Experience of the transition from large established corporate roles to a more entrepreneurial ecosystem.

(B) Observations about the education sector with a focus on India, challenges, and opportunities.

So, how has the transition from large corporate roles to an entrepreneurial setup been? Would I recommend this to others sitting on the fence? What have I enjoyed most as part of a young nimble organisation and what do I miss about large corporations and roles?

The most striking change that I noticed was just how sharp and fearless individuals starting their careers today are, the talent available today is phenomenal. At UpGrad, we have people with very strong pedigree and qualifications maybe that’s one reason OR maybe when you put a lot of similar minds together they tend to operate better but that was a striking change I noticed very early up – established large businesses better buckle up cause the wave of young talent building up surely packs a punch.

The second change I noticed was a singular focus on internet businesses and models to scale. I’m not saying this is necessarily a positive because in my opinion there’s more to developing a business than pure online channels but from a talent point of view, it was good to see a large group of people thinking and acting alike – Something that’s usually missing in larger organisation’s where purposes and pursuits even within the same team are often shadowed by individual preferences, agendas, etc.

It was also refreshing to see individuals who genuinely wanted to make a change, where wealth creation was not the ultimate aim but a means to an end and the end was rooted in genuine societal impact.

After a long time, I found individuals balancing lives, planning vacations, having a life beyond work, working on themselves and their interests. Maybe this is just me but for the longest time I had not had a break, I find it hard to disconnect but observing this ecosystem inspires me to think of life and work equation differently. I now worry about my health much more, I plan a vacation (unlike before when I always combined work & vacation), I’m more open about my life and plans with my colleagues. I feel less guilty and more open about discussing fears, failures, and apprehensions – I’m shedding the acquired cloak of invincibility that corporate culture dresses one up in.

Sometimes I discuss with my friends and colleagues about this transition period being similar to going back to school. I feel the same as I did in my first-year post my MBA, I distinctly remember that year because the experiences I had were new, fresh and invigorating for my mind. Like in any experience of the ‘first kind’ you’re most alert, active and learning – The time I’ve spent within the entrepreneurial ecosystem seems to have rebooted my head!

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Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum, what did I miss about large organisations. For starters, the ecosystem’s maturity to make long-term steady commitments is something the startup ecosystem in India needs to pick up. It’s fair to say that startups need near-term flexibility to try, adapt, stop and re-try to arrive at the perfect product-market fit but, each of the attempts requires a run of patience. Balancing it across lines of businesses is tricky treating each separately, touching some with baby mittens and others with raw punching mitts – Perhaps large organisations do a better job, they have the cushions to patiently absorb learnings and incubate, that’s important while building any business.

Over the course of the year, I’ve had the chance to interact with several founders across industries. One thing that stands out is their commitment to the vision with which the organisation was founded. In some cases, I felt this resolve to stick to the vision was so strong that obvious signs and opportunities that the markets were throwing back were ignored – Surprisingly, today large organisations are more willing to listen, plan and adapt to existential market signs. Somewhere the pluckiness of startups keeps them from being nimble, not about daily practices but about overall vision, the resolve to protect it overshadows the need to revisit and change it constantly. This is a tricky one for founders to accept but the pace of change and evolution today is so rapid that even original ideas are passe’ by the time they are fully executed, so why to stuck on them. Be rigid about values on which you build a business, not about your vision.

So, would I recommend that fence-sitters (those thinking about switching from large organisations to younger ones): take the plunge? Do it if you’re clear on what you’re looking to gain and are equally clear on what you shouldn’t. I’ve listed my reasons above, adding some more…

Be clear on what you’re looking to gain:

  • Industry change OR being in an impact sector
  • Satisfaction of building grounds up
  • Challenging/Rewiring your own mindset
  • Regain focus and cut out the clutter
  • Network within startup ecosystem
  • Transition to entrepreneurship
  • Testing your B-Plan and hypothesis

Be equally clear on what you should NOT base your decision on:

  • Wealth creation (Never guaranteed)
  • Cool to be in a startup nowadays (Building grounds up is hard work)
  • “I don’t have enough Industry experience, therefore let me try a startup role” (This mindset is fuelling the gig economy, doesn’t make careers)
  • Looking for a flexibility and believe that reporting in a large organisation is rigid (Startups are not a place to chill)
  • Those who are used to the ‘cabin manager’ lifestyle (Absolutely no room for that)

There will always be opportunities for all types of roles within large organisations to build careers. Yes, businesses are changing fast and individuals need to evolve and reinvent themselves, for those willing to do it, there will always be opportunities – So, don’t just jump the fence for fear of losing out. Large organisations are now investing in independent growth units, these are great places to operate independently if operational freedom is what you’re after. If you do decide to make the transition, do it after genuinely weighing your reasons, and have a plan for what next. Once decided, commit for a minimum fixed tenure because, just like in larger organisations, learnings-success-rewards will need a patient investment of blood, sweat, and tears.

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Most importantly, invest time to find the right ecosystem before you make the transition. Finding a startup that gives you space, flexibility is the single most crucial tip for those looking to make the transition from large corporate roles. The group of people you commit your time to is critical in your transition journey. Unless you find a team that you can learn from, that pushes you and is willing to be pushed back – Keep looking! I was able to find myself this ecosystem and so can you.

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