Open Letter to Execs & Entrepreneurs
I sent a forty-year-old executive to an entrepreneur.
In my conversation with him, the executive recounted his experience in running a $100m+ business. He enjoyed it for a while but believes he is missing the on-the-ground action and excitement of an early-stage business.
I made the connection via email and left it up to the exec and the entrepreneur to connect. Within a week, I heard from the entrepreneur.
He said, "Nice guy. What am I supposed to do with him?"
"You really have no idea?" I asked.
"The guy has great experience, but he has no startup experience. He wants me to tell him where he might fit in my startup and what he would be doing. I don't have time to think about him and his new purpose in life. I need to build my business," said the entrepreneur.
I said, "The guy is an operator. Your strengths are industry knowledge, strategy, and selling. I think the guy can be a fit."
Then the entrepreneur said something that put our conversation immediately into perspective.
"If he wants to work in my startup then he should show up and work. That's how I got into startups. It works. Show up and do what needs to be done. It's that simple."
This entrepreneur did start that way.
He wanted to join a startup. An experienced startup entrepreneur who was running a business offered him a job.
Here was the offer.
"I'll pay you $20k per year. Show up tomorrow, and we'll see if you can sell something. I know you know the market. If you sell something, great. In the meantime, you'll learn our customers, our business, and our priorities. Show up and do what needs to be done."
He took the job after agreeing to a $30k base. Over a period of seven years, he did every job but become president. He learned everything about the business from the ground up. And he learned something else. He wanted to start his own business. And he did just that.
I asked him, "Did you tell the exec what you just told me?"
“No," he said. "It seemed to me the guy was confused about whether or not he wanted to be in a startup. I just don't have time for guys like this."
"Why didn't you tell him that?" I asked. "He wants to work in a startup. He needs to get used to the pace and priorities of a startup. And the pace and priorities start with your first conversation with him. I agree. You don't have time to coach this guy."
I captured this conversation because I believe it will help entrepreneurs and corporate people interested in joining a startup.
For the entrepreneur...
When you meet someone who wants to leave corporate and join a startup, tell it like it is. Your greatest resource is time. And you need to spend it on getting cash from your market. That means you need help with everything else. You don't have time to help people figure out their future.
For the exec interested in startups...
Find an entrepreneur you trust who has a vision that lights you up. When you do, go to work. Work for free for a couple of months. Do whatever needs doing. Show your commitment and value. The rest will come. And the rest includes title, pay, equity, responsibility, and opportunity. But do everyone a favor, including you. Don't join a startup unless you are sure this is what you really want to do. The entrepreneur is too busy to screw with your indecision.
By the way, I never did hear from the executive on how his meeting went with the entrepreneur. Not sure what to make of that.