There are a few good reasons why working for a mature company first can make you a better startup founder. When I talked with Paulo Gomes (full interview), cofounder of Wizdee, we discussed three key points in the context of B2B companies. And Paulo knows what he’s talking about. He worked in the space for many years in academia before founding Wizdee – which has quickly become one of the four global players in natural language search (see Gartner report), alongside behemoths like Google and Microsoft. Wow!
Understand the industry and domain
“Especially if you are building a complex product for a specific domain, you need knowledge and experience in that domain”, says Paulo. You get to know the pains, the main problems of the industry, and the shortcoming of existing solutions. But also the value chain, their players and how they interact – both technically and economically.
All these are insights you will to start your own company. After all, you will need to find your place in that value chain, create value and survive in this ecosystem. So: where will you fit in the value chain? What unsolved problem will you fix? Which processes will you improve and what value will this have for whom?
And Paulo adds, “and if you have the entrepreneurial thing inside you, you will start thinking about solutions to improve the status quo”, which then often leads to feasible startup ideas – and startups.
Lean much more than just creating a great product
It may start out as a project. It then turns into a startup idea. But the ultimate goal is to build a company. “When you build a company, it is much more than just creating a product”, says Paulo. He goes on to explain that in B2B the sales team, marketing team and operations are just as critical to success.
By working in a mature B2B organization you can learn how each part of the business is run. You can see what works and what you might do better in your own company. Make it your mission to look at and understand every department. Consider it your little “hidden agenda”.
Set up lunch meetings with people or heads of other departments and ask them smart questions. Volunteer to work in cross-functional projects. You will learn a lot that will save you crucial weeks and months of trial-and-error once you kick off your own company.
Build contacts you will need
Contacts, i.e. personal relationships with relevant people, take time to build. And you often need access to even get a relationship going. Both you will have when working for a mature company. Use this to your advantage!
Relationships to people inside your employer’s organization, that can be future clients or business partners. But also relationships to people outside your employer’s organization: people at companies that can be your future clients, pilot customers, business partners, or even advisors, investors, or other supporters.
Again, make it your “hidden agenda” to get to know and build relationships with as many people as possible. Go for lunch, invite them for coffee. Especially when you are young, play that “youth bonus” and approach senior people by saying: “Hey, I’m new to this industry and what you are doing fascinates me because (…give 3 reasons…) – can I invite you for coffee some day?” The secret here is the “3 reasons” – you’d be surprised how well this works. And this is just one way to do it.
If you are coming out of college, have a preference for an industry but not the “big idea” for a business yet: relax, understand the great benefits that working for a mature company can have for your entrepreneurial future, find a smart company in your space, and go for it!
If you are already working in the industry and want to start your own company: make sure you take all the benefits we talked about. Build relations, gain insights throughout the organization and across the industry. Set yourself up for a powerful launch of your own business – and don’t forget to send your ex-employer an invitation to your IPO-party in a few years 😉
Executive Producer & Host of Startup Milestones podcast.
Florian Kandler co-founded Ulmon GmbH, a leading mobile travel platform based in Vienna. He was responsible for business development and user acquisition, growing downloads from zero to 15 million. He lead the efforts to raise 1.2 million Euro from Oliver Samwer’s venture firm Global Founders Capital last year. (source)