Rana Gujral is the co-founder and CEO of a leading enterprise SaaS startup TiZE. He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. Rana writes frequently for TechCrunch, HuffingtonPost, FastCompany and Forbes.
Ready to make the leap from executive to entrepreneur? Maybe you've been on the edge for a while, but something-- family demands, the need for a steady paycheck, fear of failure-- holds you back. But at some point, every entrepreneur reaches that tipping point where the burning desire to take the plunge outweighs the risks holding you back.
Leaving your corporate job to strike out on your own can feel a lot like jumping off a cliff. It's a huge, terrifying and exciting rush, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. As an entrepreneur, you'll need more than passion, drive and luck to be successful. You'll need a clear understanding of what you want and what you're willing to sacrifice in order to get it. You need a competitive advantage and a deep personal attachment to your project. Without a personal connection, it's too easy to just throw in the towel when facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Understanding what you're up against and how to leverage you and your team's personal strengths is essential to successfully cross the chasm from executive to entrepreneur.
Why I Left the Corporate World and How You Can, Too
Over the years, I've been fortunate to be a part of some incredible, dynamic and successful teams and ventures. This includes Kronos, the team that created the number one selling time clock in the world, and Logitech, where I led many successful product launches and deepened first-hand innovation experience. Most recently, I was part of the executive leadership team at Cricut, helping to reposition it as an industry leader from the brink of bankruptcy.
While I enjoyed the challenge of driving a company turnaround, these successes felt empty and unfulfilling. I was sick of corporate politics and waste. I was disillusioned by the personal agendas of senior executives and the manipulation of workers for personal gain. Despite being at the top of the corporate ladder, I was unable to create meaningful value within the current corporate system.
Entrepreneurs don't have anyone above them to impress. The only people they answer to are their investors, and good investors don't interfere in the day-to-day running of the business. As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. If your business gets stuck in a bad situation, you won't be "promoted out." It's your mess to fix. Just because you think your way is better doesn't mean that anyone else will initially share your vision. You have to make the magic happen on your own.
5 Things to Consider When Crossing Over
Transitioning from an executive to an entrepreneur brings a whole new perspective to not only managing teams, but also managing yourself. Here's what I know now that I wish I knew then.
1. Every hire matters.
Employees need to live and breathe your vision without fancy corporate benefits. You can't motivate performance with the prospect of big cash bonuses, more vacation time, or a cushy benefits package. Hire team members that complement your skill set and are as hungry for change as you are. Just make sure that change aligns with your vision.
2. Create a feedback structure.
Startup culture is all about flattened hierarchies. Teams pivot quickly because information flows instantaneously in all directions. But too much feedback can be overwhelming. Along the way, just about everyone is going to offer you advice: some useful, some platitudes, some that needs to be stored away for later. Some of the best advice and feedback you'll receive will come from your immediate team. They're in the trenches with you every day. Don't just solicit feedback from your team, customers and fellow entrepreneurs. Instead, create a structure for actually acting on this feedback and making the necessary changes.
3. Trust your gut.
This is a corollary to the importance of creating meaningful feedback structures. There will be times you'll need to contradict everyone around you in order to move your business forward. Get comfortable trusting your gut instinct. Know when to listen and integrate feedback from others, and when to march to the beat of your own drum.
4. Be ready to wear every hat.
Sure, your title may say "founder" on your business cards, but when the printer is out of ink or the toilet's clogged, the buck still stops with you, remember? From owner to janitor, be ready to wear every hat. Take out the trash, make the coffee, and live in the trenches with your team. If you want your team to dig in when the going gets tough, you need to set the example.
5. Manage yourself.
Managing your time starts with building a strong team and learning how to delegate tasks. But if you don't practice self-care every day, you will burn out before your business gets off the ground, or be too run-down to ever enjoy its success. Scraping by with the bare minimum of sleep each night or living off junk food are not badges of honor for entrepreneurs. These are bad habits that will catch up with you and undermine your success.
Personal care will look different for different people. For me, it's Muay Thai on weekdays and long bike rides over the weekends. Other entrepreneurs who I know practice daily meditation or yoga.
Making the leap from executive to entrepreneur isn't for everyone. If you have a realistic view of what it will take to succeed, and have the drive, passion and energy for the change, go ahead. Jump off that cliff. The other side is pretty amazing, I promise.