Land your start-up flight in mid of journey.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.- Helen Keller

Today, I hear a lot of  talk in media encouraging entrepreneurship as a credible career choice. Indian government supports for start-ups is new and wasn’t always like this. Generations before us were taught to find a ‘good job’, stay as long as you can and retire as soon as possible. Has everything changed? No.  On transition from a job to entrepreneur, one needs more attention to be aware of the risk and evaluate loss of leaving a steady job. This blog is not about transition from corporate job to start-up and if you are one, the articles of Saras Sarasvathy are of immense value.

Ignorant of lean-start-up concept in my first start-up days(2011), we performed quick research experiments on field with real customers. MVP was more an idea on head. More than Lean start-up, I recommend entrepreneurship principles starting with Affordable Loss in articles of Saras Sarasvathy.

When first start-up has not moved towards success and you are in state of limbo, there is a risk of falling in to trap of increasing eagerness to take more risks driven by your state of non-success.  Looking backwards, I question whether I invested sufficient time and thought to evaluate my decision to do second start-up initiative.  I became aware of this risk during my second start-up initiative via session of Saras with iSpirit. One area where risk applied to me was my failure to get my wife consent on the second initiative.

This blog is about landing the flight in mid of start-up journey, without reaching the planned destination. There is less traction from customers. You run out of money. Your partners decide to continue in start-up mode. Your attempt to aqua-hire did not happen too. Your ability became limited to act with little or no money to sustain and wait for another year.  You explored consulting and found the money inflow is less for family. Whatever is the reason, you decided to obtain a paying job. What next?

First step is to realize “Whether you like it or not, your personal life has changed. Be prepared to be alone”.  You spent waking hours to turn your dreams and plans into reality and were less in touch with your friends and relationships continuing in stable jobs during entrepreneurship.  You developed relationship with like-minded entrepreneurs, and supported their initiatives.

When you decide to transition back, the entrepreneur group seemed to keep distance using focus questions. They are right to safeguard their focus and attention to their dream or do not want to be distracted on their success focus in their start-ups. Failure is as good a distraction as much as success. You observe that cherished relationship in friends and entrepreneur groups continue and there is support.  All relationships that did not mature gets tested during transition.

You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. I failed to take care of myself and feel some guilt still.   Today I can realize a huge desire in me for someone to take care of me in my difficult times, when I wrote this blog Have I “Moved on with life” from mother’s loss? to kill silence and loneliness around me. My wife was also upset with my start-up journey and was ashamed to cry with her with the fear that she would break and I would become paralyzed in action. Both my children eased my pain with their love, started spending more time with them than anything else. My volunteering activities played significant role to create feeling of self-worth to myself. My first assignment after getting job was to bring my wife and children fully back in to my life.

Second step is to Cry out loud for your state for which you are solely responsible. The realization that I am stepping out of start-up race made me look things like failure in competition.  How long to cry alone? I called and people help from distance. No one is expert to support people in pain and suffering.  An early drink with my CTO (close his startup in 1990s) helped me to prepare myself to extent and was not fully helpful as he had the clarity to decide to continue the journey in start-up mode. If you need, call me and I am happy to give you company & revive old memories. I think this is needed to get out of guilt and plan another dream worth your chase and Get on with your next step.

Third step is to acknowledge the concern that it may be scary for recruiters, bosses and co-workers to interact with start-up entrepreneur. Start-up made you act like a hacker and hustle or be like a pirate. Who would want to work with a pirate? And once you were/are a pirate, you are a pirate for life. I realized this quite late after joining a job.

Fourth Step is to do some soul searching and come to terms with what it means to give up working for yourself. Get comfortable with your transition so that you can pitch your skills with conviction. I had limited time to perform this. In this aspect, I was doing transition to start-up to job similar to shifting between two jobs. I continue to suffer from the guilt/doubt whether I would be able to take best care of my children what I and my wife dreams in my current state and constraints.

Hell is for real. Crawling out and getting a life back is not a fantasy. Be prepared to do this alone. Any support is bonus.  I am still in process of that.

While it is sad and very difficult to do something else after a start up, you need to focus on your learning from a start-up to hear a NO without taking it personally and to sell stuff. So think yourself as the product, think of compelling reasons why someone would hire you, and meet them and let them know.

  • Worst outcome .. They say NO.
  • Best outcome .. You have the job and career you want.

Build confidence that you moved from corporate to start-up and you can move back also. You need a compelling story to explain the transitions. Many like me are unsure of how to talk about entrepreneurial ventures that flopped. You need to build strength to crawl through this hell. Seeing media articles, I have not estimate effort needed to get to a career job. Simply, I realized my unpreparedness in my job search and  learnt following.

  • Employers want to hire people interested to be there in job. You are already in disadvantage position not being in a job. You need to present yourself as someone pulled towards the company and not pushed out of constraints or money. I have done classic mistake “ If we scaled and been successful, I might not be here”. Talk to them how working for clients in start-up is similar to working within organization, meeting deadlines and attending to company needs.
  • Hiring managers may be averse to hear negative things. Failure is still perceived negative. If you fail to frames story in terms of what is drawing you to the job in question, to that company, to that industry, and focus on what went wrong with the start-up, you may find interviewers listen carefully to what you say. Some may be happy about what you said and some may be jealous of what you said. At last, they need to make a hiring decision of “Yes” or “No” and they may end with decision “May Be”. That is not in your favour and the resume gets lost in the email maze.
  • Explain move back to corporate with no apologies. Can your reframe Failures as Lessons? If  your start-up did not get traction, you did not get additional funding, describe your learning about launching new products and this can be reason for corporate to hire.
  • Talk Less, Answer only question Nobody wants to hire a start-up guy. Describe your start-up job like you were an employee instead of a co-founder. You are not in interview for a job to become entrepreneur. The other party may provide no brownie points for having been an entrepreneur. Take one or two lines to why you need to keep going. Do not try to explain what went wrong or be defensive to admit that something did go wrong. Try to keep yourself away from the past.  Ask yourself whether  one goes for a date and spend the first dinner talking about ex-date.

You have realized that the fact that you failed is not attractive.  What may become attractive is the experience gained by doing a start-up.  I have become self-aware that entrepreneur’s failure is more visible and likely to come up during an interview.

You need a resume. The purpose of the resume is to get you to the interview. Do not expect the resume to get you to job. It cannot do that. So anything that helps you Stand Out and get that call-back for interview is fair.

Do not market being founder of a failed start-up. Market how you got customers to experiment product, what made them perform so, how you recruited people to the team and how did you get press coverage without spending money.  How did you get attention of large corporations and involved in performing business development with them.  How did you self-train yourself on product management? Effectively market what you won.

While searching for a job, do not start with question “what job will I get with this experience?” May be start with question “What job I want to go out and get?”  The second question is more close to what your start-up probably took you closer to it, not further.

You need to apply to jobs that best suits your talents. What you were good prior to your start-up may have changed unless your role in start-up was similar to your previous job. But for that first you need to recognize what are you best at?

  • If you are software person and choose to be CTO (same discipline), then your skills may be considered more valuable if technology in start-up continues to be hot.
  • If you are software person and performed multi-disciplinary role in start-up, it is challenge for you to project your skills, when things have not succeeded. You spend less time in technical areas compared to corporate expectation. This changes perception of others as multi-disciplinary skill and make them observe that you are not expert in technical areas.

When you have more than 15 years of experience, be prepared to fact that probability to hire senior resource is driven by culture of company, team culture, and budget of hiring manager. Most of them may not have budget or may not be able to decide whether to invest their budget hiring you, as one needs to acknowledge the perception of hiring manager to hire someone attempted to start a business. When you are not from IIT, only few in India would be able to appreciate value in someone with failed start-up experience.

Talking to friends who continued in corporate jobs help to some extent. Some genuinely try to build my resume for you to become employable. Be aware that your skills and style of articulation that were your strengths in start-up may not be apt in interview and can overpower the spot on your resume, interview and upset your hiring chances. This was all after a friend said across lunch “While I admire you, I am going to recommend that you to purchase villa for a crore to have EMI payment of 1 lakh. This would help you to keep your mouth shut in job and be ready for corporate”.

Prepare yourself to talk on interview. Bucket your experience in to a couple of categories.

  • What did you accomplish at your start-up? Did you build a solid team, sign good deals, build a good product, secure and learn from community? Is this what is in your resume?
  • If you can go back to time when you started, What would you perform different? Which of your original assumptions turned out to be false? Where you spend time that you should not have and where else you should have focused?
  • Identify and share what was exciting part of your role in start-up.
  • In each context, be prepared to say what you would perform differently to prevent making the mistake again. Be prepared to discuss in interview. Do not think answer for first time in interview. In areas where you had success, try to get external validation, if possible on LinkedIn.

I am still not clear how much others receive or what they perceive when I describe to  demonstrate the guts and drive to start something or experience gained working rapidly in variety of disciplines, fact that you do things, not just talk about them.  Remember the start-ups may not have money, which is your need.

What I can perform within my control was following

  • Follow behaviour of servant leadership, being humble and  be respectful
  • Look for a small company to get a job, where you can be big, or work directly under the CEO/CTO if possible.
  • If you end up in a big corporate, you are below someone who is there for no reason at all, and your entrepreneur critical eye just leads you to frustration.
  • No one wants to hire someone who carries an aura of failure about them. Plus hiring someone with the entrepreneurial bug is a persistent flight risk
  • Stop attributing problems to external things. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make massive progress. If you make these regular incremental improvements, your life improves dramatically within not too long

This transition is life event. That means that this would play its role in the next job interview also.  Realize that how others will interpret life event depends almost solely on how you present it. If it is your great shame, then yes, people will see your great shame.

When you get a job and get salary credited, it is really weird feeling to see a paycheck come in every month for just showing up; that excites you for a bit, then the itch to get back to real action almost kills you. To handle my itch, I continue to write my blog and volunteer for non-profits, be a spring board to bounce and discuss ideas for entrepreneur friends and connect them via my network.

Like having children, Working for society and community is a life event or choice. You cannot get freedom from social bug, once you are bitten. Entrepreneurship is same, it is a life choice, you can give up on a career but the entrepreneurial bug is forever.