This question originally appeared on Quora: Should I work for someone else before starting my own company?
Take my middle son. He went to a five-year B-school program that ended with an IMBA. He's worked for two venture-capital firms and three startups, all relatively small (8 to 40 people) and has worn a variety of hats, from product manager to marketing to international sales.
The point is, he gave up a lot of potential salary to pursue this course. He wanted consciously to have a submariner experience--where you must know how to do every job--so that by the time he is 30 (two more years) he can start his own company and be an effective CEO.
There is a lot to be said for just diving in. Nothing says you have confidence like actually having confidence. Fall on your face the first time or two out--cheaper and more educational than an MBA. Get used to a tight belt and couch-surfing--at least you'll become the persuasive SOB you'll need to be.
A strange thing happens whenever you start a startup ... bluebirds. It is the damnedest thing. God looks out for idiots and brave souls. For example, courtesy of one of my answers on Quora, I was asked to meet with a 40 year old woman who had a product idea but no startup experience. I figured there was one chance in a hundred she was the real deal. What do you know, she is the real deal, and I told her she could count on my help. I also told her not to worry, bluebirds will start to show up on a regular basis. In three months now, she has had four key talents enthusiastically offer to help and has been promised introductions to two more heavy hitters.
I met with her Friday, and she said, "You told me that thing about bluebirds landing and I had no idea how to take that. But that's exactly what's been happening to me ever since."
My youngest worked for two different media graphics companies in SF Media Gulch in the year after getting his animation degree. He then formed an animation and motion graphics studio of his own with two buddies. At first, much of their income (of which there was not much) came from overflow work from their former companies. But over their four years they have added a Who's Who list of international clients and more than a dozen employees. They are finally starting to pay themselves as much as they could've been making working in the industry, but the stage is set for doing a lot better from here on.
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