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Working at a Start-Up!

Over the last four years I have been engaged by a range of organisations - some ‘traditional’ and some just starting up.

I have enjoyed working for both, but probably loved start-ups and tech companies that were scaling the most.

By the way, I have been thinking about writing this blog for over a year, and a couple of recent conversations on the topic spurred me to finish it!

In the start-ups I have supported, I sometimes found myself working with ex-corporate people (XC).

Some of these XCs I would consider ONE dimensional.


  • “We did it this way.” XC would make statements about how things were done at another organisation that were out of context for the start-up's situation. The room was silent, the XC failed to read the room, and people distanced themselves.

  • They continued to operate from their context, rather than seeing it from somebody else's perspective. They then asked management to address their isolation and exclusion - not questioning why their colleagues might be avoiding them.

  • Their desire for perfection made it almost impossible to scale anything they led as things were so personally engineered.

  • The immediate team chose to avoid collaborating with XC, and the broader organisation would only collaborate on very selective items. Basically, the XC was used for things but not integrated into "the bigger thing".

  • The XC became a management overhead, taking energy from interactions rather than adding to them. They exhausted people!

My tips for ex-corporate people who find themselves at a start-up: UNDERSTAND

  • Understand the short-term milestones and how they contribute to the outcomes = growing and staying in business. Be sure to provide ideas to accelerate these short-term milestones.

  • Understand the concept of minimum viable product and what the core features are for the majority of customers. This will maintain the margin and enable earlier scale.


  • Learn to accept progress over perfection. Situations change quickly, and the perfection strived for may be redundant by the time it is ready. Instead, seek incremental improvement.

  • Think ‘Scale Over Standards’. Look to achieve scale in the most simplistic manner across the offering and be externally competitive rather than competing against colleagues (something I have seen TOO OFTEN).


  • Start-up culture. Be very careful when judging culture as longing for and introducing your ‘big corporate culture’ will see key talent leave.

  • Embrace the differences of people and the diversity of the experience - be an adaptable Swiss Army Knife rather than a sturdy Stanley Knife.

This year I have been very fortunate to travel multiple times to global events in North America where it is evident that the economy is entering, or in, recession.

BIG companies will be shedding jobs. As there is a war for talent, a start-up could be a great place to be, and they may now consider an XC when they wouldn't have in the past. Also, those start-ups that make it through recession will be stronger and more exciting places to be.

If you are an XC considering being part of a start-up, think about the above.

One of the many stories within Making Life Happen.


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