Future Entrepreneur? Consider a Corporate Job
Last weekend I listened to a radio advertisement that invited me to enroll in massage therapy school. “Run your own business,” it said. “Work your own hours. Be your own boss. Make as much money as you want!” It sounded quite appealing. Who knew that masseuses had it so good?
I feel like I’ve been listening to some form of that advertisement since my first year in college. Whether it’s through a book, blog or podcast, the central theme is always the same: become an entrepreneur and you’ll work less, make more, do what you want, and change the world. It’s a highly appealing message that taps into our human desires for wealth, freedom and self-actualization.
With such an attractive message, it’s no wonder that so many people coming out of college want to dodge the corporate path and become entrepreneurs immediately. Despite the odds (only half of small businesses survive past 5 years, and only 25% survive past 15 years, according a report by the Small Business Association) certain people are determined to make it work and are more than willing to take on the risk. Many have ideas that they simply can’t ignore and passion that drives them to action. I’ve got nothing but respect for these folks, and I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from going after something in which he or she deeply believed.
But entrepreneurship and corporate life don’t have to be in direct competition with one another. In fact, a corporate job can be a fantastic starting point on your journey toward full-fledged entrepreneurship. Many self-made businesspeople started their careers working for a corporation. So before you vow to never work for “the man,” let me offer up the notion that starting off a career in a corporate job could be a really sound entrepreneurial decision.
Here’s what a few years at a big company can get you:
Industry Insight: Many people become self-made by learning the ropes of a specific industry and then finding a pain-point in that industry that they can solve. Their inside knowledge gained through experience is what enables them to add additional value in the marketplace.
Structure: Corporations are set up in such a way as to force employees to learn discipline, prioritization, punctuality, time management and balance. These basic skills of getting work done and operating in a business environment can help you immensely when you are working for yourself.
Formal Training: Corporations have large training budgets that can help you develop both technical and managerial expertise. When I started my first job out of school, I racked up several hours of useful training in the areas of business presentations, communication, leadership and analytics. These training classes taught me skills that are useful both inside and outside a big corporation.
Experience: There is no substitute for the wisdom that comes from making mistakes and learning from them. Why not make them on someone else’s dime? It just might be the difference between succeeding and failing when you decide to strike out on your own.
Stability: Sure, if you take a corporate job, you won’t be working toward taking your new company public and subsequently cashing out. But you won’t starve either. Unlike most startups, a corporate job will provide income and health benefits from day 1. If you manage this income properly, you can pay off debt, establish some savings, and put yourself in a financial position to sustain yourself when you decide to make a move.
Credibility: Working for a corporation is a great way to build a resume that will give you leverage. When you are ready to give that big pitch to the Shark Tank panel on your newly developed technology product, having 5 years at a leading technology company will only work in your favor.
A Network of Contacts: Corporations are full of smart people. Those people can help fund your venture someday. Or they may even be the people who will work with you to get that venture off the ground. College has smart people, too, but the difference is that corporations have smart people with experience. It can’t hurt to get to know them a little better.
So if you don’t yet feel like you are 100% ready to do your own thing, consider trying a corporate gig for a while. It will only help you as you plan for the future. Who knows, maybe you’ll love your corporate job and never want to leave–not a bad alternative to entrepreneurship.