Entrepreneurs get credit for creating without a traditional career path, but equally impressive are those that build something after leaving the corporate environment. In fact, it may be tougher for those that break away from the security, as you only miss something when you have it.
Tammy Perkins of Fjuri can relate. She left a series of leadership roles at Amazon and Microsoft to become Chief People Officer and Managing Partner of Fjuri, a new marketing and digital strategy firm. I talked with Perkins about how you can transition smartly from corporate to startup - and why finally being in control of your work culture is a double-edged sword.
What is your main goal as Chief People Officer? Is there an equivalent position we can equate it to?
My role as Chief People Officer is focused on investing in our talent, while creating a culture and environment where people are empowered. In many ways, being CPO is like being a chief architect, but instead of a house, you're building and co-creating a team and culture that will support the rapid growth of your business. At the end of the day, if you don't hire the best people, and ensure you're motivating, engaging and developing them, you're putting your company at a strategic disadvantage.
You were previously at Microsoft. What is the most difficult part about creating your own company now?
One of the key things I've learned working in both large companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, and startups including Fjuri, is you have to define what success looks like and then co-create it with your team. Scale matters, and there's a big difference between a corporate culture, which is focused on adoption and getting employees to buy in, and a startup culture, which is all about co-creation.
One of the most difficult parts of starting a new company is focusing on growth, while taking time to create the team structure you need to support that growth. Intertwined with the way you work as a team is your culture - and great cultures start with a foundation of empowerment, engagement and accountability.
Many fast-growing startups are having very public cultural issues now. Is creating a positive culture difficult or is it just not a priority for most new businesses?
Many companies lose sight of the positive culture they are trying to build, or in the case of Uber, undermine it by prioritizing growth over culture. When a company prioritizes scale and business growth, it leaves the culture to be created on its own. The result is the culture you create is influenced by the people you hire and the leadership behaviors. As Jim Schleckser, founder of the Inc CEO Project, wrote in his recent column, "Netflix doesn't tolerate brilliant jerks." We all appreciate those employees who are unquestionably brilliant, but that can come at the expense of the collective team, or hinder collaboration, which is where great culture is born.
What is the biggest false assumption people make in transitioning from corporate to entrepreneurship?
There are a lot of differences between a corporate and more entrepreneurial role. I think one of the most important success factors for people is focusing on their sweet spot. Life is too short for us to spend time doing something we don't love. You have to find your sweet spot within your organization - where you can add the most value and feel most passionate in your job.
Some of the biggest false assumptions people make is they'll be happier in a corporate role, or happier as an entrepreneur. Those "leaps of faith" don't necessarily equate to happiness or success. While many of the skills you learn in corporate roles are transferable, a startup is a whole new challenge. You have to constantly challenge yourself to try new things, fail fast and learn faster. Having a strong support system of friends, colleagues, and mentors can make a huge difference for people as they transition.