I’ve spent my entire career working for well-established corporates and when a former Australian colleague asked me to consider joining a tech startup based in Geneva and then be permanently based in Singapore, it was actually an easy decision. I was working in London and starting to look for my next challenge with a role closer to home in Sydney, as I wasn’t quite ready to move back to Sydney on a permanent basis.
I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to work for a startup sometime in my career, because it is where a significant amount of the cutting edge innovation occurs! Even though Forbes states 9 out of 10 startups will fail, I was still very keen. I’ve read a number of blogs describing various experiences joining start-ups and I thought I’d document my startup roller coaster ride experience.
Starting up – I arrived in Geneva for a 3 month period before a permanent move to Singapore to set up the APAC office. I was briefed on the progress of the startup and was impressed with the quality of the work completed. It was clear the digital piece was missing and this is why they were waiting for me to start.
I was given the directive to start to define the go to market digital strategy. This is work I was made for and with a blank sheet of paper I was a kid in a candy store! I remember thinking stay cool and calm and breathe…1, 2, 3, 4 and breathe!
Getting into my stride – The first 2 months were simply exhilarating, unique and also challenging. Working closely with my colleagues, I defined the digital strategy and it was integrated with the broader marketing strategy. We had a comprehensive plan to launch the product in a number of markets worldwide supported by the digital ecosystem including an ecommerce, dynamic content and utilising social media to provide 24/7 customer service.
It was incredible being able to think with a blank sheet of paper. There were some limits with budgets, resources and time, but there were no legacy systems or processes or someone saying ‘we always do it this way.’ Of course we started designing the Roll Royce solution, but logic prevails and we quickly moved to a reliable 5 door Ford for launch, with plans to move back to the Roll Royce once we were generating suitable revenue. Btw, it wasn’t just any ordinary Ford, we had a several accessories because we also needed to stand out in the market when we launched!
You get to meet and work with some very smart people in a startup and that was one of best parts of the experience. Smart people with great experiences, knowledge and skills who are there for the same reasons as you and who are just as passionate. I’m not saying you can’t get that in an established business, but there is just this edginess with a start-up that you just don’t feel in an established business!
Wobbly wheels – after the first 2 months, we were informed about funding challenges and we all took it in our stride and kept moving forward. A good deal of working for a startup is trust especially around funding and you expect funding and other challenges in a startup. Unfortunately, the funding challenges continued longer than expected and we had to start the reviewing the launch strategy with a decreasing budget.
Planning your exit – there is a point in time in a startup or any job for that matter, when you need to consider your exit strategy. With this startup the funding challenges continued and I realised I needed to get myself into familiar surroundings before the wobbly wheels actually fell off the wagon and I was stranded in Geneva. I remained committed to the startup and clearly understood the risks however, my focus needed to move to me. After a conversation with the CEO and CMO, we agreed I’d move back home to Sydney while the funding challenges were addressed and I would work remotely.
Defining the experience – well I’m still in Sydney and the funding challenges continue to this day. But I’m still not deterred by the experience. My friends ask me if I would go back or join another startup and I definitely consider all options or joining another startup.
In my mind the 4 months in the startup were worth 1 year’s experience in a big corporate, this is because it changed the way I approached my role, it freed my thinking, broadened my views and it reignited my passion for in digital.
If you get the chance, I recommend giving it a go. But expect challenges and startup life is not for everyone and if you don’t like change, then stay where you are!