Ten Lessons Learned from Quitting a Corporate Life for a Startup
I was asked to speak at the Personal Development Session hosted by the Rotaract Club of Amman West. The session “The Road to Success- Feel it, Work it, Achieve it“, was aimed to inspire participants by sharing professional experiences to influence and enhance their confidence in both the work place and their career paths.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say at the session, and I wanted to utilize the 15 minutes I’ve been given to the best of what I can offer, so I chose to speak about one main topic that has affected my life in the past couple of years, leaving a corporate life for a startup. Unfortunately, time was a crunch, the event was running a tad bit late, and I had to be elsewhere by the time my turn did come, so I managed to crunch it down to a quick 5 minute chat. Nevertheless, here is what my original PD session was like.
Lesson #1: Dream Big, Start Small
For as long as I could remember I would tell my dad that I would want him to loan me a couple of thousands because I wanted to start my own thing. He would say, money isn’t an issue, I’ll give you what you want, but starting your own thing with no work experience is a big mistake. You do no necessarily have to work in the same field that you want to establish, but work experience is a MUST! You learn a lot about yourself, and you develop beyond your comfort zone when you have to report back to someone, you need that kind of responsibility. The whole learn to then earn was a model my father is a firm believer of. I got my first job straight out of high school as a hotel receptionist over the summer, by the time the fall semester came in university; I had a part-time job on campus and was hired straight after graduating in 2007. I worked for 5 years and worked myself up the ladder before I decided to leave and start my own thing.
Lesson #2: Don’t be your own CEO
When you first start, clearly you are the CEO of your own company. You have a business plan, a vision, a goal, and you are in the process of hiring a smart team to help get you there. In addition to a lot of paper work, legal work, finances, and governmental work, it’s like a one-man show. But as you grow, you want to be able to identify who you are and know your strengths and weaknesses. I’m personally a go-getter, and if you’re anything like me, you would know that being my own CEO would’ve killed me. So I assigned my partner who is also my husband to be the CEO of the company. This way I get to focus on growing the company and taking it to where I want to be one day, and he can focus on what he does best.
Lesson 3: Learn to Fail and accept it
You can’t hear it enough! Everyone says it, and it’s as real as it can get. Yesterday during the sessions two esteemed speakers mentioned it as well Mr. Marwan Juma, and Mr. Ghassan Nuqul. There is nothing wrong about failing, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen more frequently than you think! If you haven’t failed in my opinion, you aren’t trying hard enough. Fail, get up, and learn from your mistakes, it will make you a better person and a better leader for your organization.
Lesson 4: Be tenacious, don’t give up
Start Ups can fail for multiple reasons, the most common being a lack of market need, being unfunded, or hiring the wrong team. However, if you have a good product that is demanded in the market, then you need to hold on, be tenacious and fight. Founders tend to get bored, lose focus, lose interest, & passion. This will hurt your business, so don’t give up and remind yourself why you did it all. Feel that you aren’t getting paid what you need? That’s ok too! Startups don’t really make money at the beginning, focus on the big picture. My income got slashed down to a third of what I used to make, so on the side I did a lot of freelance work and I even did social media training, this generated the cash that I used to make working for a corporate office while allowing me to grow my business in a manner to where I have become today.
Lesson 5: Time Management
Time Management is something that you hear often, and yet not many people seem to manage their time. You would read articles online that say that you should never start your day with email correspondences because you’ll get lost in small details and you won’t be able to accomplish much during the day, but how true is that? It could be for some people, but not really for me. See, people have different learning styles, and time management is no different, you just need to find your rhythm. Typically my day starts around 6:30 or 7:00 AM, my first order of business over a steamy mug of coffee is firing up my outlook and getting to my emails. The cool thing is, no one is ever in office before 9, that’s colleagues and clients combined, so that gives me a good 2 hours to get started before the world becomes demanding again. I read my emails, type in quick responses when adequate, flag the ones that require follow up during the day, and write down a list of tasks for both myself and my team that need to be accomplished by the days end. Once the tasks are prioritized, I sent them out, set the deadlines, and head to the office, I’m in by 8:15 tops in the morning, and I get a good head start for my day.
Lesson 6: Work when you don’t have to
Early mornings, late nights, weekends! Whenever creativity and productivity strikes, go for it. Surely you’ve heard that a startup is a 24/7 job and isn’t your typical 9 to 5, which couldn’t be truer. I am a firm believer in channeling your energy for work, so when you’re feeling inspired, motivates, and productive, go for it, even if it’s past work hours. The best ideas I’ve had to date were the child of late night insomnia or break of dawn brainstorming. With that said, sometimes, I feel completely unproductive, so on rare occasions I just leave the office, have a cup of coffee, run an errand, or busy myself with just about anything, because I know when I’m back, I’ll be able to make up for last time instead of staring into the space of my computer screen.
Lesson 6: Become an Expert
In any field of work, you never stop learning. While curling up with a good book is a preference to me, I spend a good amount of time reading and learning before I go to bed each night. Reading not only increases your knowledge but it keeps you inspired and increases your capabilities. There is no such thing as being a guru because the day you stop learning about your field of work and relative fields, you become ancient, so invest in yourself, keeping on learning, and never ever turn down an opportunity to network unless you really have to.
Lesson 7: The Power of No
Having a startup is financially challenging, so every client you bring in is usually potential for your growth and getting you one step closer to your finish line. However, there are rare occasions when you have to politely and gracefully turn down a client.
Whether you are unable to do a good job within an unrealistic deadline set by the client, a client that you find to be beyond demanding, and could literally drain down your entire team and work hours by driving you nuts before he/she even signs on that dotted line, or a client that is requiring something that is “off your brand”. A simple “Thank you but no thank you” will do. Sometimes you just don’t want to invest your resources into a client that will demand an extra 200% of your effort and time than you had projected, because it will simply end up costing you much more.
Lesson 8: Separate Company Needs from Personal Desires
Who doesn’t want big office space? Modern furniture, top notch everything for their start up? I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want fancy offices. But what we have served its purpose. 8 fully equipped employee desks, two manager rooms, and a spacious kitchen/balcony in the cozy Jabal Amman area. Now, personally, I would love something posher, think Suits the TV Show? Who wouldn’t want an office like Harvey Specter’s? I’d kill for one, but then getting my team top notch supercomputers, fiber optic internet, and resources to make everyone’s lives smoother at work are far more important than a fancy office, or that latest version of the MacBook pro I’ve been eyeing for a while now.
Lesson 9: Take Customer Feedback Seriously
90% of our customers came in through referrals of Happy Customers! 85 Percent of Small Businesses Get Customers Through Word of Mouth, and this number shouldn’t be surprising because a happy customer is not only a returning customer but is also your brand advocate and brand ambassador. So whether you offer a product or a service, take your customer feedback seriously, it will allow you to go beyond your comfort zone when offered with constructive criticism, and that’s when you shine.
Lesson 10: Know your core competency
Determining your core competency isn’t easy; it will require that you look at things in a fresh perspective. Many starts ups look up at their competitors in the market, and they try to imitate them. Instead, identify what your company stands for, and determine what makes you stand out from your competition, that will be your core competency that should allow your company to expand and achieve your goal. There are so many occasions when people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them that Digital Marketing Strategy Director at Fairooz Digital Solutions. Then, of course, I heard the story of “Oh, not sure I’ve heard of you, who do you represent”, and I say X,Y,&Z. Typically that’s followed by how big is your company, and when I say I currently employ 13 people and were expanding to the UAE and the KSA, people are surprised, what most of them don’t know is that our core competency is not only B2C, we also do a lot of B2B, we sell other agencies our work product, whether it’s designs, copywriting, content marketing, websites, social apps, or animation, we’ve down so much work for competitor agencies on a white label deal, we don’t publically advertise it, we don’t pouch their clients, and we bring in return business and grow all while not bothering with the ego of who did the work.
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