Up & Down the Corporate Slave and Free Bird lane

10 lessons learned as an entrepreneur and employee

Disclosure: This piece was first published in the Alumni Entrepreneur’s corner of the Electrical Engineering Student European Association (EESTEC) magazine (p.47) so #10 may not apply to you.

Upon graduation with a B.Sc (Hons) Electrical and Electronics Engineering degree from Eastern Mediterranean University in 2011, I knew I had the option of either starting my business or becoming an employee to that dream job. It’s been 3 year since then and I have had a good dose of both worlds.

In that short span, I have co-founded 2 startups. First was Nigeria’s first online takeaway site — EasyAppetite.com, and the second a new media outlet offering internet solutions to businesses and brands. I also found myself taking up employment as a Digital Media Strategist for 4 different companies, and even had my spell as a Chief Operations Officer to a technology media company.

It’s 2014 and I find myself alternating between entrepreneurship and employment but here are 10 lessons I have picked up. Hopefully they become valuable to you whether you find yourself in either of these places or need a push in one direction at the crossroads of these two paths.

Photo Credit - Frederic Poirot - Creative Commons - Flickr

1. Entrepreneurship is no easy alternative to being an employee

Many young people and even seasoned professionals often make the mistake that running your own business or being in charge is easier than working for or under someone. This might just be a myth. While entrepreneurship affords you the luxury of control and decision making, it comes along with a lot of responsibilities. I remember taking up the role of product developer, accountant, business developer, operations officer, restaurant relation manager, and even customer care agent at the early stages of EasyAppetite. So be ready to work odd hours and do odd jobs just to get off the ground.

2. No sitting on the fence. All in or go home

I call it the fly or die philosophy and apply it to all of my entrepreneurial ventures. No point starting what you are passionate about and giving yourself enough runway to fly or crash. So I make a 3 months plan, list my goals and objectives as well as get the resource to sustain the effort. If after the time elapses there’s no validation I close shop and move. No point beating a dead horse when you can always mount (or groom) another. That said…

3. Don’t yield to the temptation of juggling more than one ball — at most two

Better to have 100% focus on one venture — whether as an employee or entrepreneur than half efforts here and there. Nothing comes out of it eventually and you waste time and resource. This is one lesson I learned that hard way after summing up how much resource had been lost on about 10 failed startup ventures — average of $500 each (not taking account of time).

4. You can actually get employed as an entrepreneur

Consider the shock when I saw a Google, Microsoft, and Accenture flier all having ‘Entrepreneurship’ as a trait be sought after in potential recruit. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup uses the term ‘intrapreneurs’ — referring to hired entrepreneurs. You still get to work on building products with an uncertain outcome but in an environment that breeds discipline and following through on ventures — something lacking in most (internet) entrepreneurs.

5. Don’t start a business with a double

Ah! I thought this was a fad till I experienced it myself and got to learn about leadership at Accenture. You don’t want a co-founder that is just like you in terms of thinking and areas of strength. Get an opposite. If you are visionary, get a realist or an opportunist. Complement each other.

6. Embrace failure but hate it

Don’t be mistaken. Failure sucks and it’s not cool to be tagged one, but your story is more inspirational if you failed failed failed then succeeded. No one really learns anything if you succeed on every attempt. So whether as an employee or entrepreneur, don’t be afraid try with the aim of getting better. If you fail, learn from it and move forward.

7. Nothing wrong in getting employed to raise capital

Don’t know where to get funds from but have a skill? Then get a job and save up some money for your startup capital. You are certain to also learn on the job some transferable skills and lessons. So don’t go starving when you got a skill you can trade for cash.

8. It’s either you know how to code or how to sell

I can’t code jack (and trust me I have tried Codeacademy, Learn street, Codes for Dummies) but I can sell you stuff I am passionate about. If you can do both, respect. I’d however recommend you try learning programming — at least the jargon if you looking to start a digital business or any business that would require working with web and mobile technology. While people say selling is in the DNA you can also hone your sales and marketing skills and the best way to do so is actually selling.

9. Ideas are overrated. It’s all about execution

Everybody has a $1bn idea but only 0.0000000001% will actually execute (Ok, I made up that stat but you get my point). One lesson I picked up from the NDRC during the development days for a startup competition in Ireland was ‘startups can out-design and out-innovate bigger (resource and size) companies’. So after all said and done, it’s how well you do your job as an employee or build and sell your product an entrepreneur.

Recommended book: Execution — The Discipline of getting things done by Larry Bossudy & Ram Charan (available on Amazon)

10. Your Engineering degree makes you cool either way

So this is not really a lesson but I have seen that having an Engineering degree especially Electrical (and Electronics) does place you in a special place when having a conversation with peers, investors, employers, and just random people. I always get the nod of approval when it comes up. So you can be proud to know you are on the right track.

Congratulations and all the best in your future endeavors — whether as free bird or corporate slave.

Up & Down the Corporate Slave and Free Bird lane was first published on my Medium.

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