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Journey from a large enterprise to a startup
Are you someone who is working in a large enterprise and contemplating jumping into a startup? Check this out to learn about my experience and some tips that could help!
My Name is Vikram Pothnis and I lead Business Development and partnerships at Fyle.
Growing up I have always enjoyed learning by doing and solving problems. I started off by working in a large multi-national product company and had the opportunity to take on diverse roles, thanks to an organization which fostered curiosity to explore. One of the roles I took up was as a trainer. A technical trainer to start with, but I soon grew a keen interest in training sales folks. It is during this time I realized, for someone to really buy from you, you should help them solve a problem. My quest to solve problems led me to switch jobs and take on a role in sales and eventually lead a product business unit. I have taken up roles in business development,solutions sales and partnerships ever since and it has been quite a bit of learning and very fulfilling. The complexity of solving problems not only for the end customer but also the “what’s in it for the partner” makes it more interesting.
The startup itch!
The drive to solve problems made me start up a company several years ago along with a friend in addition to a full time day job. Although I was involved in it for only 6 months it gave me a lot of exposure starting up from scratch and selling without having the backing of a brand. Ever since this experience I have been considering joining a startup or a smaller company. I had evaluated several startups through the years and was following a few closely.
I had considered joining a few but didn’t quite muster the courage to make the switch as few of the parameters I was measuring against didn’t quite make the cut.
I got to learn about an opening at Fyle and I was excited as I had been following Fyle for some time and was impressed by the progress they had made. Taking the plunge was still not easy. There were multiple thoughts running in my head, I have tried to list down my mind map at that point below:
Belief in the vision- I was sure I wanted to get into a company where I believed in the vision and was convinced it was a problem worth solving.
Fyle ticked this one right away. I had been a frustrated employee around submitting my reimbursements and always thought there had to be an easier way!
People – When I quit the first company, I remember my manager telling me “no matter which organization you work for it’s the people who make it a company” That is very true. It has been a consideration through the multiple companies I have worked with.
Throughout my interaction with people at Fyle prior to the interview, during the interview process and after, I felt extremely at ease and could relate to them quite well. So that was a tick too.
Stability of the company- After having worked in large companies, one of the things you tend to take for granted is the security of a paycheck at the end of month. The incentives which follow a sales role could vary, but almost never have to think about getting the base salary. A startup however works with limited resources typically. If not managed can lead to a lot of cash burn and could be strapped for funds.
After following Fyle and the growth I was certain that It was managed quite well. Investors backing up the company provided the additional assurance.
Impact on work-life – I had a perfectly balanced work-life as I had been working in a remote team and working from home. In a large organization, being in a role for more than 2 years means I was in a comfort zone. I was able to manage my work quite well and there was no need to stretch. I often thought “I have to get out of my comfort zone and explore something new”. In fact, it’s the same motivation which led me to take on diverse roles earlier in my career too. But it was different this time, I now had a daughter who wanted to spend more time with me.
By joining a start-up, I had to be prepared to make all of this go away. I was looking at a much smaller company, new beginnings meant I had to work harder, not only to learn about the company and market but also the people. I had a chat with my wife and daughter, and we discussed that it was something I have been wanting to do for a while and they were supportive. So, this was a tick too.
The unlearning- Large companies usually have a tendency to get bureaucratic and complex when it comes to decision making and speed of implementation of any new ideas. Things can move pretty quickly in startups due to the simplicity of structure and autonomy of decision making. Typically, also follow a fail fast approach.
I was aware it's something I will have to unlearn and will be different. I was up for the challenge.
What did people say!
For a lot of people including some of my friends, relatives and co-workers this was an unconventional move. Following are some of the concerns shared by them
Startups are risky- “Startups fail all the time “Can`t discount this completely, but I had done my due diligence as mentioned before.
Brand name- “You have worked for well-known companies throughout your career, moving into a small unknown company may not be good for your career”. To me the opportunity to make an impact and learning seemed important and was fully aware of the trade-off of an unknown brand.
Plan B - “What’s your plan B if it does not work out”. I have always believed in putting in the best in the interest of the organization and customers and have never faced the need for a plan B. I didn’t see this as any different for being a smaller organization.
Your team- “You will not have a team” The luxury of working in larger organizations especially after several years of experience is, you have to just direct what needs to be done and get it done through other people. A lot of it can be taken for granted. I knew joining a startup would mean starting afresh and quite a bit of hands on work from scratch. I was up for it.
Journey so far at Fyle
After evaluating the various factors, I finally made the plunge into Fyle. It has been really refreshing.
Fitting into the culture- From the time of the interview process to joining formalities to onboarding, the culture of the organization really shows up. Folks at Fyle are extremely transparent and open in communication. There is this sense of respect and zero entitlement. Everyone is super approachable and willing to help.
I must admit, few of these needs getting used to (eg: overcommunication, level of transparency. Especially coming from a larger organization where information is quite guarded and typically shared only with people who are impacted from it.)
Focusing on the “Why”- providing context to anything we do. This is actually great! It helps in being respectful of people’s time, effort and other resources. In large organisations a lot of time is spent in attending meetings and expected to work on activities without understanding the bigger picture of why it's being done . It’s quite different here at Fyle. We focus on the bigger picture and everyone understands the impact of the work they are doing along with a clear context and also alternatives being considered before starting some activities. This also often helps in structuring ones work better and execute better.
Being flexible – Very early on In my career I heard this from our then CEO Michael Dell “The only constant thing is change” This amongst few other things I have learnt early on have left a lasting mark on me. I believe being flexible and being open to change and not fixated about role, title etc. goes a long way in how we shape our careers. It’s no different at Fyle. Being a startup with a limited amount of resources and people, we often pitch in to do something outside of our key roles and I actually enjoy it quite a bit. Pushes me a little to get out and try something new.
Learn, Learn – The biggest advantage in my view of joining a startup is the breath of exposure you get and the learning you can get. People at Fyle are especially open to sharing and teaching and it's really refreshing. This is something which is not possible in most large companies.
Overall, I simply love the way the company is being built and really appreciate and enjoy working here. There is a sense of ownership with everyone you work with which feels extremely motivating.
Some additional thoughts to consider before joining a startup from a large organisation.
What matters to you - Are you someone comfortable with the status quo and not willing to let go of your comfort zone. A startup may not be for you.
Absolute clarity on why you want to change - What do you stand to gain from switching to a startup. If the answer is it sounds cool. Think again, it's not a reason to change.
Flexibility - No doubt a progressive startup offers a good amount of flexibility, but you need to also have the sense of ownership to have the luxury of flexibility.
Unlearning - You need to be ready to unlearn a lot which would be set in stone if you have never worked in a small company.
Speed and agility - This is an advantage and differentiation of a startup. If you are not ready to adapt to this. Look elsewhere.
Passion and enthusiasm about the problem being solved - To me this is non-negotiable. If you do not believe in the problem being solved deep enough, you may find it very difficult to fit in.
Ready to restart - The credibility you have built over the years, ways of working, having a team to help you with your work, fall back options. Stop! Forget all that.
The buck stops with you in a startup. You should be ready to let go of the bygones and start afresh and be ready to get hands on.
This is my journey so far and I am super happy about the decision I took to dive into a startup. Trust my experience helps you in taking a decision that is right for you :)