Now or never? The value of not working in a start-up right away

I have a dear friend – a former colleague from many years ago – who I think of as one of the most savvy, insightful people in the booming “fashtech” (fashion + technology) space. She has some of the most killer, unparalleled insights in the sector, and if I had my long-awaited lottery winnings (still waiting every week…) I would put my money on her and her killer idea for a wearable tech data platform.

The funny thing is, she’s not an entrepreneur.

Don’t get me wrong, she has the “itch” and is keen to make the leap into entrepreneurship, but she has been taking her time, and for all the right reasons:

1. Problem-orientation. Many startups are based on a planned or fortuitous development of a piece of IP that is the core of a product, then scrambling to identify that holy grail of “product-market fit.” She turned that equation upside down – with her in-depth knowledge of consumers, retail, technology adoption rates, and more, she can clearly see gaps in the market, and build a solution oriented to that.

2. Credibility. Most investors say they’d rather put money on a B idea led by with an A team, instead of vice versa. What makes that A team? That depends – but usually it’s not your school or GPA, but rather your work experience. Successful startup backgrounds (especially with exits) are certainly a plus, but someone with a decade of operational experience who knows the industry, key influencers, and trends is another step ahead.

3. Potential strategic advisors. Related to the above, current or past employers are not just great for building operational expertise – they are also great for networking with the sector’s heavy hitters and innovators. More often than not these people will be the foundation – advisors, board members, investors – of a future endeavor with someone who was a rockstar employee and knows the industry.

4. “Free” training. I remember when I first tried “marketing.” Not consulting about it, or being an intern watching it, but really being responsible for how many new customers my company had. I was scared that I couldn’t deliver results – or at an even more basic level, that I don’t have “real” skills (to be fair – that’s still debatable ;)). I was given a budget and connected to advisors to help me along the way, but was still skittish until my CEO took me aside and said – “Peri. You’re the only one on this team who can at least try to do this. Take the budget, and just keep learning.” And with that I understood the value of a free education. From the rigorous training sessions I was lucky enough to have as a consultant – things like analysis, synthesis, and storytelling – to the tactical, street-smart training I received in mobile user acquisition, I realized that the best training is the one you can get on someone else’s dime. I don’t mean that in a crude or transactional way, but I mean that I had investors who were willing to take the risk as I learned with their capital over the course of successes and failures. It is much easier to do so, to get both book and hands-on training, when it is not your bootstrapped venture putting your ability to pay rent on the line. Indeed, one might even find themselves stepping into too risk averse-a role to really be able to flourish.

Some people have the itch and will take the leap into startups straight from college / high school / the crib – and that’s fantastic. My point here is that age, or operational experience should not be seen as a negative; quite the opposite, it can help create an even stronger product and a more engaging story.

06 July 2016