When you start a company, or join a startup, you’re quite literally investing in yourself—your abilities, your vision, your conviction and that of your team. This is a profound truth that is reflective of some major shifts in the “what” and the “why” of career development and talent management.
As a founder, your very first investors and stakeholders are the team you’ve assembled. A founder bears two key responsibilities here:
The first is that of having lured these individuals away from other opportunities (more to come on that in the next paragraph);
The second is the responsibility of creating a team with the domain expertise, technical talent, and hunger to relentlessly attack the challenges of your market. I’d also add that this includes creating a culture that continuously motivates your team to perform at the highest levels, and which in turn, attracts other great people.
Attracting a great team is of course important as it relates to executing against your vision, and building and selling product. It’s also, and I’d argue almost as importantly, a proxy to the world around you of your ability to communicate your roadmap, vision and market opportunity, precisely because other excellent people have bought into it with enough passion to join you.
As an employee, this dynamic is amplified. When you’re deciding to take on a role (or not), you’re asking yourself one big question: “Do I believe in this company, this team and this mission enough to compensate for the opportunity cost of doing anything else?” Your overall compensation is going to be some compensation of cash (probably not much), culture/fulfillment, and equity/options (where you’re capturing this “upside opportunity”—and literally investing in the ride).
Just yesterday, we spoke with an investor who quite succinctly framed this: “If a founder can’t attract a great team, that means that at the most granular level, they can’t attract a ‘first investor’”—why would I back them then?”
The increasing shift of workers to the entrepreneurial ecosystem is reflective of many things, not least of which is a generational shift around viewing one’s own career path.
Historically, the path was pretty clear: graduate from school, either go to graduate school or enter a “training program” (you still see this at banks, law firms, etc) with a class of people in the same “year” as you, and work your way through the ranks where you’re compensated for your loyalty and performance through salary, benefits/perks, maybe a bonus, and some kind of stock options that tie your long term success to that of the company’s, as well as some promise of stability (often backed by the balance sheet of a large company). If you are fulfilled by your job, that’s pretty nice “icing on the cake.” Your upside, for the most part, was capped, but so was your downside.
The point of the matrix above is to suggest that one’s fulfillment in a job operates on a spectrum that really does boil down to some existential questions about what drives you as an individual.
The downturn of 2007-2008 in many senses had the effect of “breaking” this implicit social contract for many. With something like 8.8 million jobs lost during that time, for many that illusion of stability was shattered. And it had the effect of refocusing many people’s efforts from upfront dollars and stability (the lower right hand quadrant) to fulfillment in their careers and upside opportunity (the upper left hand quadrant).
There are a million inputs that have driven an influx of great talent into the entrepreneurial ecosystem (including low interest rates and regulatory changes that have driven $$ into the asset class, lower costs for starting a company, greater support system, etc), as well as both good (the rise of a new generation of entrepreneurs, the sharing economy, etc) and bad (a generation of unemployed or underemployed temporary workers) outputs from this shift. These are also shifts that have historical context and precedent, and are often framed in the same insidious light as “McJobs” were in the 90s, but the shift nonetheless remains constant and places larger companies at particular risk of brain drain.
Give credit where it’s due: a number of the leading corporates—including our partners at Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intuit, L’Oreal, Pepsi and JP Morgan Chase are working with us to break this binary model and to provide new means of engagement and fulfillment for their employees precisely by exposing them to the best parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These companies are trying to move their value propositions to current and would-be employees from the bottom right to the top left and, in so doing, align with the current major motivators of premier talent.
Choosing to start, or work at a startup invariably injects an element of risk into your career, as quantified often times by lower up front pay, and lower visibility into the future. However, the upside is equally attractive—the opportunity to have a direct impact on your fortunes and to benefit directly from that. There’s no bigger, or better way, to bet on yourself and a team than that. And that’s precisely why we look to the strength of the team as one of the single biggest factors for inclusion at GCT.
Are you part of a great team? We want to hear from you. Applications close May 1.