Five Lessons From an Entrepreneur Turned Intrapreneur

by / ⠀Startup Advice / September 21, 2011


Two years ago I was afforded the opportunity to work at a mid-size company as a full-time marketing manager.  After ten years of as my own boss, the prospect of working with a group of intelligent marketers with actual resources, a steady salary, and a 401K was too much to turn down.

It was here, in the corporate environment, where I learned the true meaning of an intrapreneur, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation.”

The business landscape is changing and the recent downturn in the economy has forced companies to do more with less people. That means that employers are hiring innovative thinkers to solve age-old business problems in new ways.  I asked my department head, to elaborate:  “An entrepreneur can bring a tremendous amount of value to a larger organization.  Entrepreneurs, almost by definition, gain a variety of skills and learn to think on their feet and operate with limited resources.  An entrepreneur is also someone who has developed a ritual of self reliance and accountability, and understands that to get something accomplished they will need to push the initiative.

While my time in the corporate environment has been enjoyable, and for the most part successful, I have made a few missteps along the way. And so I humbly offer a few tips from my journey as an intrapreneur. Whether you are just entering the corporate fray or and an old entrepreneur at heart, these tips can help clear obstacles from your path.  They are as follows:

1) No One is an Island:

Know this: you will have to give up some independence in your transition from an entrepreneur to intrapreneur.

In your role as intrapreneur, you must depend on other people and internal processes to get your job done. The sooner you accept this truth, the happier and more productive you will be. Things are going to move slower than you are used to and that’s okay. Push the initiative forward, but follow the organization’s standardized business process. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for your ideas. In fact, this is probably why they hired you in the first place. Just keep in mind you are part of a system now, so take a deep breath and remember what it was like when you couldn’t afford printer ink because your client hadn’t sent the check yet.

2) Listen for the Music:

Embrace the company culture and its core principles. This can be incredibly difficult for an entrepreneur stepping into a new role and newfound team –sort of like dancing to a type of music you’ve never heard before.

At first, the “notes” may be hard to find, but within most companies there is a thread of belief that is ingrained in the culture. Welcome the culture and you will not only make better decisions on behalf of the company, but you may just catch the eye of your supervisors.

3) Don’t Cry Wolf:

As an entrepreneur, you probably have an eye for inefficiencies. You’ll often find them in a corporation and it’s tempting to point them out. After all, what company doesn’t want to operate more efficiently?

Think before you speak up. If you nit-pick every possible issue, you’ll soon be regarded as a naysayer and coworkers may become reticent to share new ideas with you. There are simply going to be processes that seem ridiculous to your bootstrapping mind. You’ll have to choose when and where to raise a flag. Frequent complaining about company processes gets old fast, and more importantly your incessant griping may keep you from getting buy-in when it’s really important.

4) Great Minds Think Alike:

These days, it’s a safe bet that you will find another entrepreneur or two in your company. Entrepreneurs hold a certain pride for having “been in the trenches,” and are often excited to discuss their past experiences. This is a great place to build an internal network of individuals with whom you can share ideas, discuss upcoming projects, and do a little constructive venting.

5) You Know Kung Fu:

Effectively leveraging your entrepreneurial skills in the workplace is sort of like being in the movie Matrix. Follow me here: in the workplace there are certain rules you must follow to keep your supervisors and coworkers pleased with your performance. They include: showing up on time for meetings, executing assigned tactics, and meeting goals.

However, like the Matrix, there are company rules or processes that can be bent or circumvented in the right situations. The Zen here is to find the areas of “flexibility” that aren’t going to get you in hot water. A great place to look is the unfinished projects bin. Often there are lagging or unfinished initiatives that the company has already invested time and money into.  If you can step in and provide a return on the project, you may find yourself with a ton of leeway sans the red tape.

The key to making a successful transition is to understand the organization’s culture and process, suggest change with caution, and keep your entrepreneurial edge by finding areas of opportunity that lie outside the traditional bureaucracy. In other words, don’t get sucked into the machine completely- rather, accept the way things work, keep your eyes open for inefficiencies, and find roadblocks where you can apply your skills effectively.

It’s been an interesting transition. I’ve learned a ton, worked with some great people, and have gotten close and personal with the grass on the on other side of the fence.

And you know what? It’s pretty green over here.

Jeff Certain is a Senior Marketing Manager at Rasmussen College where he supports the degree programs at the College through various digital marketing tactics. He has worked in the field of Interactive Marketing for more than 15 years. Jeff holds an M.B.A. in Marketing & Entrepreneurship from the University of St. Thomas. Jeff resides in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Erin, and enjoys canoeing and fly fishing.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.