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Wanna to Join a Start-up? Check this Out!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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Having a career coaching practice in the Silicon Valley has its demands! Although I have clients in 23 countries, it is only some (about 10%) from the Silicon Valley who engage me have the desire to either start their own venture or to join one. This is not to suggest that those in geographies outside the San Francisco area do not yearn to go into start-ups or to launch their own venture; it merely means that they find other avenues to seek guidance when they do. Many career professionals, after being in the corporate jobs see the glamorous world of successful start-ups and yearn to be part of that action, filled with adventure, excitement, and occasionally, lots of money, if every thing goes right for them!

It is easy to see a fresh graduate or an MBA finding themselves a partner from the dorm or final-year business project launching a venture to try out an idea, while their curiosity is still fired up and their risk tolerance is high. However, when one gets in their mid-career, having mostly spent their professional years collecting W-2s (annual tax forms to file with your IRS returns to report your annual salary), I ask them some tough questions to qualify them for getting into the start-up world. Here is what I look for:

  1. Career Arc: If you have stayed in one (or just a few companies) during the past 15 years (you are now in your early 40s) then the mere optics of your career is against your being seen as start-up-ready candidate for your first venture. This does not mean that you cannot have an idea worth pursuing at that age, it merely means that you must have that idea so compelling and so well fleshed out that your odds of success and the time it takes to achieve it are in your favor. Despite the common misapprehension the median age for an entrepreneur is not 25, but it is 39-1/2.
  2. History: Despite your Gold Medal or being the class valedictorian your past must show your penchant for adventure. Although brain smarts are mere table stakes to be a part of a start-up team, it alone is not enough. You must demonstrate more. What does this mean? Did you have a business during your high school or college days? Did you take an idea to create some business that may or may not have been successful? Whom did you associate with in your early days? Even writing a regular blog on a topic of interest and establishing yourself as some authority in some technology/business areas can be seen as having entrepreneurial spirit.
  3. Resilience: Early stage start-ups go through major shifts in how they change their mission (pivoting) as they learn what works and what needs work. Showing grit and resilience in your past is a critical factor in your being seen as someone the start-up team can count on to withstand and deal with the uncertainty that is integral to the start-up zeitgeist. So, during your interviews if you are able to showcase how you bounced back in adversity this can be a plus in your being seen as your being a potentially valuable member of a start-up team.
  4. The Grrr Factor: This has to do with your ability to not get bullied by those who have the power or the authority to bully you. Holding your ground in adversity is a critical element of having the courage of your convictions. This factor must come through as the interviewers challenge you in your statements and you are able to hold your ground with conviction.
  5. Curiosity: Most start-ups succeed because they challenge the status quo and shift paradigms of technology, applications, and business. Elon Musk of Tesla and Space-X challenges every assumption that conventional businesses base their existence on. When it came to justifying his new $4B factory for battery manufacturing he and his team challenged every assumption about the costs of different parts of a battery that goes into its BoM (nearly 80% of it) and realized that different assumptions helped them reduce that cost almost by a factor of 10.
  6. Swagger/Humility Balance: Although start-up founders need to be confident and convinced of their idea they must not come across as know-it-alls. Swagger can be seductive, but arrogance a turn-off. In a start-up during its early stages so much is unknown and so much must be improvised that unless one is able to swallow their pride, pivot quickly, and admit their learning (mistakes) a start-up can go no where. So, learn how to show humility, if you have already mastered the swagger part.
  7. Ethos: Each start-up team has a unique ethos. For that team to bring another member in its fold they must make sure that the new member is compatible, so as not to disturb the teams fabric and how it works without communicating every aspect of their functioning. In a start-up this is very important, as not every aspect of the intent can be articulated, communicated, and disseminated. Yet, the core spirit of the start-up team is something that can be sensed unmistakably. Sensing what that is and then assessing if you can thrive in that environment can be a critical factor in choosing the right start-up and making a go of it.

The above factors are just a partial list. Not all items that are required to be qualified as a start-up or founding team member can be articulated, but this list should be a wake-up call to those who are thinking of quitting their W-2 jobs to join a start-up!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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