Do Renegade Startups Still Need Big Biz Experience?

December 22, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

There was a post over at a few days ago that’s really stuck with me. It’s an article from Mark Stephens of IDR Solutions and it lists seven reasons why you need to work for a big company. The main argument is that working at a large company first will give you the tools you need to create a startup later and that entrepreneurs should start their careers there. That it’s almost a required education process. And while I think Mark’s post was probably right on the money a few years ago, I’m not sure many of his truths hold true in today’s climate. But I’m curious to hear what you think.

In his post, Mark goes into detail about his magic seven. I won’t repeat it all here but, in a nutshell, here’s why Mark thinks you should work at a large company:

  1. You learn an awful lot.
  2. You get to work with lots of clever people.
  3. You become part of a larger diaspora/community.
  4. They have lots of perks.
  5. You learn the art of politics.
  6. You have time to reflect.
  7. You get a baseline.

You know what’s funny? If I had to create a list of seven reasons people should pick the startup life, those may be my exact same seven. Well, except for number five. There’s no room for politics in startup culture. Or anywhere else. Get over yourself.

Like I said, Mark’s list was probably very true a few years ago. When you think of the archetypal image for an entrepreneur, what do you think of? It’s probably that unshaven guy sitting in his basement, lit by a single light bulb and pizza box fumes, while he searches his head for an answer he can’t quite find. Or at least that’s what it used to be. When we thought of entrepreneurs, we thought of a person who had fallen off the map and went rogue. He was in business all by himself.

But that’s not what today’s entrepreneur looks like.  They’re not by themselves.  They’re driven by a vision and can get by without that big business experience because, as people and entrepreneurs, they’re a heck of a lot more connected then they were before. There are Web communities like OnStartup to go for information; there’s Twitter and the other networks that allow us to build communities; and we have a long list of role models to learn from, to emulate and to partner with. Those resources we once relied on big business to give us? The ones we had to collect before we could go underground and live in our basement? Now we easily create them ourselves. Social media has given us the water cooler and the Rolodex we’ve always wanted.

And that’s evident regardless the size or niche of the business. Even the small baker down the street isn’t going it alone. She can check out BakeSpace and find others like her or the tools she needs to run her business. The education is taking place in real-time, which allows us to move faster, smarter and in brand new directions. We’re not going underground, we’re reaching out. We’re connecting ourselves to others just like us.

Telling someone they need that big business background before they can make it on their own merit seems a little backwards and I think it discredits what the entrepreneurial spirit is based on. I know I’ve learned more running Outspoken Media in two years than I have at any job I’ve previously held, even when in a pseudo-management role. I know more about business, myself, and what I’m doing than I ever would have in a different environment. I’m connected to more people who can help my business and my career.

Your vision and sweat equity are what will determine your success in a startup. That’s what you need to bring to the table and what will determine your fate. I think entrepreneurs today are a lot less dependent on the networks that big businesses create, not because those networks are less important, but because we’re creating them ourselves. The learning, the community, the working alongside smart people, the baselines? We’re finding that in each other.

Or at least that’s my thought. What’s your opinion? Do entrepreneurs need a big business background to later run a successful startup?

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