Should you join a Start-up?
We wrote recently about how investment banking is a great foundation for a number of career paths and that includes start-ups. We see lots of demand from candidates wanting to join a start-up and many people are attracted to the potential freedoms that starting their own business can bring. It can be a big decision to leave the relative safety of an established firm though, so what are the typical traits of those who succeed in the start-up environment? We asked some of our network who’ve already made the move for some insight…
Corporate Development Lead at a fast-growing start-up (previously investment banking):
Can you describe what it’s like building a start-up? "At my current firm I have a great degree of responsibilities and own many projects and their results. I have always wanted to disrupt an industry by participating on a big project supported by an outstanding and international team: this is what this business is to me. Further to this, our culture is unique and forward-looking. We are a results focused company, so we can choose our own working hours and take as much vacation as needed to drive results and perform at best."
Who is a good fit for a start-up role? "Start-up jobs are very demanding and challenging. You have a higher degree of responsibility and things keep on changing daily. A good fit should embrace change and be happy to work on an ever-changing environment. Flexibility and adaptability are key skills for success. Also, a candidate should have initiative, passion for the product and eagerness to make a change!”
Founder and Managing Partner at a newly-launched London-based investment firm (formerly a distressed investor):
What key attributes does one need when launching an investment business? "I had the luck of experiencing the entrepreneurial spirit already before launching as my previous firm was also a two-man band with a multi-billion fund behind us. Overall, entrepreneurial spirit, curiosity and critical judgement are the most important attributes. In a small fund you are on your own and the lack of the infrastructure around you shouldn’t be felt as a limitation but as a source of opportunity. Certainly, you need to develop fast the critical judgement to understand the big picture and estimate the marginal value of every step you are considering.”
Fintech founder (ACA, formerly VC and mid-market PE investor):
What do you look for when hiring someone into your start-up business? "The most important aspect, without doubt, is cultural fit. There are no shortage of skilled workers; however, it is critical they fit into the existing team ethos. One bad hire can make a significant impact on the entire team. We look for people that are similar in mindset to the existing team: valuing a work-life balance, and at the same time are diligent and hard working.
Being able to focus a wide range of challenges at the same time is critical to running a growing company – one moment you're making a key hire for the team or raising VC funding; the next you are ordering paper for the printer! Knowing what to prioritise, and how to delegate, is the biggest challenge as a lack of time is the major limiting factor.”
Private Equity investor and founder of an online tech start-up:
What are the key lessons you have learnt while setting up your own business? "The main lessons I learnt through setting up my own business were around the challenges of 1) managing a company’s operations 2) developing a product and a competitive go-to-market strategy and 3) dealing with investors.
We were figuring out how to operate a company which implies bringing (and keeping!) talent onboard, allocating capital, tracking KPIs and confronting ourselves to the fact that the reality can be quite different from the original business plan. We also had to learn to develop a unique value proposition and trying to find where we could be competitive. Questions such as which markets should we enter, how and why? were often part of our brainstorming sessions. Pitching and dealing with investors was quite fundamental to the learning experience too. Raising funds is not an easy task. Beyond handling the legal documents involved in the process, it requires finding partners who agree with your vision and trust your ability to make it a reality.”