The joy that an entrepreneur gets for working for themselves is without compare; however, the experience gained by working from others can make you more successful.
In Daria Shualy's recent article, Why every founder should work for someone else in between startups, she takes a look at several key reasons why entrepreneurs shouldn't go from venture to venture without a break in between and why those breaks should include working for others.
But if you manage to put your ego aside, you will learn that it’s the smartest move you could make as a founder. Working for another founder can teach you things you will never learn at your own startup – things that will turn you into a much better entrepreneur in the future. This is what you’ll gain.
1. An off switch for your mind
We founders can’t shut down the part of our minds that has to do with work, because our startups aren’t our work, they’re our lives. Wanting to succeed more than anything, fearing failure and an endless checklist of mundane tasks prevent any form of relaxation.
This relaxation time is crucial for getting your energy back, getting some perspective on your last startup and coming up with the right idea for your next project.
I'm not quite sure it ever works quite like this. In my experience, the off switch is a personality trait all entrepreneurs lack--myself included. Even the years I worked outside of startups, I had the constant itch to tinker, explore, and expand--which was great for the companies I worked for, but meant I rarely was 'off.' My recommendation would be to take the time while NOT in the founder spot to determine what your best work/life balance is and how to maintain that next time you ramp up your next startup.
2. A deeper understanding of employees
As a founder, you might know your employees are not your co-founders, but you don’t really get it emotionally. Most of us founders unconsciously expect our employees to put in the same long hours as we do, and to think our startup is the most interesting topic at lunch.
Being an employee yourself for a change — with 0.75 percent equity, one year cliff and four years vesting at best — will open your eyes to what you can really expect from your employees. And more important, it will remind you what you must give your employees if you want to keep them happy and motivated: Recognition, Respect and Perks.
And you know why? Because at the end of the day, even if they work as hard as they humanly can, if the company succeeds in a big way, you’ll win all the glory plus 15 percent of $300M, and they will get a line in their CV saying they worked for a successful company and 0.5 percent of that sum before taxes.
And if you fail, you still get the credit for starting and managing something, and they get a line in their CV saying they worked in yet another failed startup. So never forget it, and make sure you recognize their efforts in a substantial, deep and tangible way.
This is HUGE. So many founders that I've worked with are brilliant, but have NEVER been an employee and have a difficult time seeing things from their perspective (especially if they're already financially secure).
Employees, more than founders or even co-founders, tend to live a different life. I believe it's important that any hire match the company culture, but there will always be a emotional difference between a founder who sees the startup as their 'baby' and an employee (or even up to the first 10) that wants to do an amazing job and respects the mission of the startup.
In this, compensation--both tangible and intangible--is key. Ensuring that a living wage is paid and a long-term vision is created for the team helps put their base Maslow needs to rest. In my experience, the biggest concern about working at a startup is not knowing if there will be a "job" tomorrow--and not being able to plan accordingly for life and family. There are only so many single, unattached employees out there who can do anything on a whim.
3. A professional specialty
When you’re the founder, you do everything, especially in early stage startups. You come up with a concept, build an MVP, raise funds, hunt and recruit talent, build budgets, design screens, write copy for landing pages, tweet and do the dishes.
And while you probably had some original profession, you never get to do just that. Working for someone else is a great opportunity to rediscover what you’re most passionate about and to excel in it.
Personally, coming from a varied background (hardware into software into process improvement into architecture management), I've recognized where my strengths and weaknesses are by knowing my profession. In turn, that helps me know what I enjoy and what skills I need to look for in new hires to help supplement my weaknesses. Being able to recognize skill sets and being more than just a founder can go well to better hires and better distribution of labor when its crunch time.
4. New leadership wisdom
Even if you founded five startups with different co-founders, there’s always room to learn. The thing is, learning as a founder with all the pressure involved is much harder than learning from the comfort of the backseat.
Allowing yourself to let someone else lead, while you sit back and watch closely, will teach you new things about leadership you could never learn from a book. It’s called experiential learning — you can really get it only once you experienced it.
In every organization, whether a startup, large corporate, or SMB, the founders and executive team have a culture in how they lead and, more importantly, how they handle change.
To build on the author's original point, I'd recommend also branching out into multiple sectors. If your skillset is technology, you can find opportunities in consumer product development, education, retail (online or brick and mortar), or in whatever industry interests you. However, each of those industries likely handles their operations quite differently due to a different priority of key metrics.
Branch out and test the waters in various industries. For example, if you need to see how a leadership team handles high-pressure IT operations, seek out those types of opportunities, like a hospital infrastructure SaaS or an online retailer during holiday season.