In this post, I’d like to propose a new path to becoming a successful entrepreneur. In the conventional approach, a smart and ambitious engineer quits his/her full time job to start a company. Contrary to what it may seem from TechCrunch, the outcome of this approach in most cases is a failure. The newly minted entrepreneur goes from one product failure to another, eventually running out of motivation and/or money. Rather than following the same path that has led countless well-intentioned engineers into a downward spiral of risk, failure and loss, I’d like to offer an alternative approach, one that I believe will increase an entrepreneur’s chances of success.
Instead of starting a company, the engineer leaves their current job and joins an early stage (funded and < 5 employees) start up as an “entrepreneurial intern”. Here, the intern gets treated just like any other employee in terms of pay, equity & work but with one important difference: they are employed for a limited duration of 1 year. After the year is up, the “intern” parts ways with the company to do their own start up.
Working with senior engineers on tough problems is arguably the best thing one can do for an engineering career. The same principal applies for entrepreneurship. It is no accident that so many successful start-ups have been started by early employees of other start ups (PayPal -> LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp; Facebook -> Quora, Asana; etc). Here are three reasons why joining an early stage start up can make you a better entrepreneur:
1. Smooth Transition
A large company (10+ employees) has well defined roles and processes for its engineers. Transitioning from that to a start up where there are minimal (if any) processes and the role pretty much includes everything, is in itself a tough transition. Add that, to a transition in personal life style (part & parcel of the $0 salary) as well as a possible relocation (to silicon valley) means that it’s quite a ride.
Fortunately, with this approach the tough transition can be avoided. There is no doubt that there will still be a significant change in the way the engineer functions. Working in an early stage start up is extremely different than a large company. It will take hard work and long hours, with the constant challenge of wearing multiple hats. However, they will be able to transition into this chaos without having to constantly worry about a pay check (or relocation expenses). After the year is up, the engineer starts to thrive in this chaotic action packed environment, thus setting the stage to build a killer start up.
2. Stop being ‘just an engineer’.
Knowing the best way to code up a node.js analytics framework only goes so far when the real challenge is to drum up investor interest for a great new product, hire for a role that is out of your knowledge-range, or strike-up a partnership with another company. In many cases, those skills are more important to the company than any code that may be written. Being an engineer is an awesome stepping stone to becoming a good entrepreneur. However, there are several other skill sets that are essential to success. Working in an early stage start-up is a fantastic building-zone for complex skill-sets. In early stages, teams constantly throw people outside of their comfort zone, which is invaluable experience for starting a new company.
3. Get founder advice & recommendations.
Demonstrating high-caliber work at the early stage start up goes a long way. After the year is up, the employing founder(s) will have no problems advising the ex-interns as well as making introductions to their respective investors. Building a successful start-up is already tough. Doing it from scratch with zero investor & industry connections is even more difficult. A strong footing in the industry and real-world experience are just the beginning. The right connections can help secure investment, find a co-founder and much more, the possibilities are endless.
At LegalReach, we strongly believe in this approach. Both my co-founder (Avlok Kohli) and I went through this path, allowing us to learn from senior entrepreneurs and do a much better job at LegalReach.
As such, we would like to give back to the community by enabling other future entrepreneurs to join and learn from an early stage start up.
So here goes: if you are a solid software engineer who wants to learn about start ups and build one yourself – contact me: email@example.com