5 Ways Corporate Execs Can Thrive at a Start-up
BY Jen Wilfong
Thinking of making the leap from a big corporate executive to a start-up? Do it. Here's why.
I’ve recently transitioned from one of the world's largest established brands and Fortune 50 company, Caterpillar, to working with a growing start-up business, Indianapolis-based Slingshot SEO.
Leading a team of more than 300 globally, with a budget of up to $120 million, while overseeing dozens of projects and expectations, is quite different from my new role: leading an in-office team of five with an average age of 24, in a day-to-day marketing plan to create sales-ready leads and add measurable value every day.
If you're a big company exec thinking of making the leap–do it. Martin Zwilling, a contributor to Forbes online notes, "The job of a big-company executive is very different from the job of a small-company executive." I agree. Sure there are growing pains, but I’ve found the joys far outweigh the challenges. Here’s why:
1. Add value from Day One
Start-ups know how hard it is to sustain customers, cash flow, talent, and funding, so they respect veterans of companies with decades of business experience. Start-ups listen and implement ideas quickly from a well-informed, experienced exec.
2. A change of consequences
The general perception is that decisions are made more quickly in smaller companies. While that's certainly true, the consequences of each decision are also closer. Don’t meet your lead generation requirement for the quarter? There might be cutbacks next quarter. There is a change of pace–but it is more a change of consequences, with jobs and lifestyles on the line.
3. A leader is a leader is a leader
Great companies, regardless of size, allow their leaders to execute with accountability. If you can coach, make decisions with data quickly, and are ready to accept feedback as you learn a new industry, you’ll thrive at any company.
4. Your role doesn’t define you
Your experience in corporate finance, team-building, and project management can help bring needed skills to a start-up – regardless of what your business card says. And bring your Rolodex: while your job title might say IT or HR, connecting with former large-company peers across departments can help you gather talent and skills that can transform a start-up business.
5. Immediate feedback
At any moment, the owners might wander in and talk about your work. My performance evaluation happens on a day-to-day basis–not just quarterly.
Be ready to roll up your shirt sleeves, coach a younger workforce hungry for your experience, and those business cards? You’ll order your own. Making the leap isn’t easy, but it's definitely fun.
Last updated: Mar 14, 2012
JEN WILFONG is Vice President of Marketing at Indianapolis-based Slingshot SEO, a national leader in online marketing, planning and execution. An Indiana University graduate, Jen spent 25 years as global brand manager at Caterpillar.