Start-up or stay put?

Posted by IAB Australia On February 25, 2015

With so much innovation happening across media and advertising, a new wave of global and Australian start-ups are luring industry talent to execute on their bold plans.

It’s a big decision for anybody – to leave the security of a corporate or established business and back an unproven offering or new technology.

Having made that leap 12 months ago, here are my thoughts for those considering taking the plunge.

1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable:

Nothing can quite prepare you for the ambiguity of an early stage start-up.

Forget processes. Forget structure. Forget the comfort of knowing somebody in the company has the answer or will do “that” for you. They don’t. You just have to figure it out – together.

Roles aren’t defined and JDs are often non-existent and if they do exist, rip them up because it shouldn’t matter, you do what you’ve got to do.

Not knowing is confronting. There’s no place to hide, you are exposed. You have to embrace that and consistently challenge your established way of thinking and acting.

2. Fail, learn, apply. Repeat:

Corporate culture tends to operate on a “failure is not an option” philosophy.

In start-up land, failure is a healthy and necessary part of life. Not giving something a go just isn’t an option.

The freedom to fail is a scary and confronting thing. What’s important is that you learn to cop this on the chin and fail fast, fail often, and apply the learnings each time.

3. Earn less, learn more:

You may have to take a fixed pay-cut to join a start-up, with the potential upside coming from share options as the business grows. Having a stake in the business also changes your mindset around the company’s overall strategy and progress.

What you don’t see in the monthly bank account is more than accounted for in terms of personal and professional growth. It’s important that you make the necessary financial adjustments upfront – as my father advised me – “cut your cloth accordingly”.

I can safely say that I’ve learnt more in the past year, than I learnt in the entire decade I spent in traditional media sales.

4. Have the right attitude, and team:

On the flipside of feeling exposed in a much smaller team, where there’s nowhere to hide – your impact as an individual is also (rewardingly) amplified.

Traditional organisational hierarchies don’t exist in start-ups, and this gives rise to a level of collaborative working and sharing that’s rarely experienced in big companies.

You get to feel like you’re directly shaping and building the business and culture. In a start-up environment culture is critical.

In terms of hiring new people I’ve had to shift my mindset to: recruit for attitude and talent, and then train for experience and skill. In many cases we’re creating roles that have never existed before.

Trust, passion, ability to learn, unrelenting work ethic, collaboration and fun are important personality traits start-ups thrive on, and recruit on.

5. Vision is even more important than product:

Initially your product might not be the best, but your leadership and vision must be.

If you’re considering a career move to a start-up, pour all your research into finding out about the leadership. What type of people are they? What do they value? Why do they do what they do?

Unlike a large company that may publish its vision on a corporate website – your next employer might still be building their website, but strong leaders always have a vision. A strong vision is essential to bringing the team together. Ensure that whoever you are joining has both vision and purpose.

6. See something, do something:

Be prepared to do stuff yourself you’ve never had to do, never thought you’d have to do, or haven’t done since you worked part time in high school.

Whilst your title might be something seemingly fancy you might also be the one buying toilet paper, watering the plants and emptying the bins. And forget handballing tasks like doing your expenses or booking travel.

If you see something that needs doing, nobody else is going to do it for you in a start-up. Everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and get the job done from MD to newbie and everyone in between.

7. Leave your ego at the door:

I went from a huge company where there was a tried and tested procedure behind everything, and feeling like I had an answer or solution for all situations….to all of a sudden feeling stupid every day.

I abandoned a linear career trajectory in a company that was a household name, and now spend family BBQs desperately trying to explain what it is that my new company does, and why they’ve never heard of it.
It’s a massive whack to the ego, in all the right ways.

The ego is what makes it hard to distinguish between what we really want and what we think we ‘should’ do. It is often our fear of failure and fear of what others think that dictate our decisions in life.

A start-up takes patience, perseverance, resilience, a lot of hard work (a lot) and a healthy mix of failure, fear and fun.
If you’re genuinely interested in learning more about yourself, others and business in general, then my advice is to: feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Adam Furness is Director of Strategic Accounts – Asia Pacific at RadiumOne.

IAB Australia

IAB Australia is the peak trade association for online advertising in Australia. As one of over 43 IAB offices globally and with a rapidly growing membership, the role of the IAB is to support sustainable and diverse investment in digital advertising across all platforms in Australia.