The Best Entrepreneurs Are Born In A Cubicle

by / ⠀Startup Advice / December 7, 2012

What motivates someone to launch a startup? The secret sauce in this recipe includes things that are almost mystical in nature, including ambition, fearlessness, and more than a handful of luck. The motivation to begin a startup always begins with an idea  — the next “big thing” that an entrepreneur envisions. That’s how Apple, Google, Facebook, Foursquare, and countless other success stories begin. While many famous entrepreneurs launched their businesses in a garage or dorm room long before they were legally able to drink.  However, there are other successful, inspiring entrepreneurs whose stories begin at the least expected starting point: the 9-5 job. Yes, your best chance to turn a startup into a commercially viable entity may begin with your experience sitting behind a desk and working inside a traditional corporation.

Obtaining Experience

My career path through EMI Music, Silicon Graphics (SGI), and finally, a dozen years at Apple absolutely helped me launch my own successful venture, The All Access Group. As a new consultant, starting out some 15 years ago, it was vital that I understood corporate structure and processes for my clientele. I was able to take ideas and concepts from all of my previous positions and bring those values into my own company (and to my own team as a clear set of expectations).

1.)     Self-discipline and focus

Corporate careers definitely teach you the ability to set priorities and minimize distractions so that you can achieve small and large goals every day. This is paramount to success.

2.)     You can’t do everything yourself

Nor should you try! Interacting in a team is one of the most important structural frameworks of any major company, and when you make the transition to startup owner, you’ll quickly find yourself handling everything from financials to legal issues to marketing, and so on. You will have only yourself to rely on, and you are the only person responsible for failures.

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Tackle the things you love to do or that play to your strengths and outsource the rest of the tasks that will slow you down. The corporate world provides us with teams of people to do a long and sundry list of things we are not supposed to be experts at, such as human resources, IT, graphic design, etc.  As a CEO I learned the hard way the importance of engaging resources, such as a virtual assistant or social media strategist. Spend your time doing what you do best.

3.)     Don’t fear breaking some creative barriers

At Apple we were encouraged to do this all of the time, and it changed who I was. You won’t always be successful, but having a mindset of innovation and being willing to take risks are two of the most vital ingredients to succeeding in today’s world where the reality (and virtual reality) shape-change at the speed of light.

4.)     Insights and Training for Entrepreneurs

The insight and first-hand experience into how organizations with dozens of departments and complicated management structures operate is priceless. In a way, it’s the million-dollar post-secondary education.

From inside a corporation, you have the opportunity to see what works well and what doesn’t. It teaches you what types of approaches to management, work, and culture create the opportunity to excel AND get your projects approved. Remember, as an entrepreneur, you become a joint-venture partner, so to speak, and you need people to “buy-in” to your ideas and strategies. Knowing how corporations function, from the inside out, can be a huge advantage.

It’s also important to remember that some of us don’t work well in collaborative groups. Others have trouble taking negative feedback. Many people struggle in management roles. Working at larger companies provides you with exposure to a variety of people and types of professional relationships, opportunities to understand (and offer) constructive criticism, and the ability to observe different management styles. Navigating this river of people, departments, and executive teams is well worth learning from inside the corporate veil.

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5.)     Taking the Leap

There will definitely be drastic changes in your professional life with this sort of career maneuvering. Be prepared for the shock. Life as the CEO of a startup can be lonely in the beginning, especially if you are used to daily interactions with colleagues, brainstorming sessions, and meetings. Make it a point to connect with the powerful professionals in your rolodex and from your corporate history. Be inspired to get out of your place of work (especially if it’s your home) and network. You can find limitless opportunities to connect with the entrepreneurial community through social media or local organizations. Look for groups through, LinkedIn, and your local Chamber of Commerce.  Trust me, smoothing the transition from corporate lackey to ambitious entrepreneur with a tribe of power players and brand supporters is a key to your success. Get out there and find them.

Old Habits Die Hard

There are several bad habits that are prevalent in big companies that you can’t afford to embrace at a startup.

1.)     Scheduling and unnecessary meetings

The tendency to schedule a bunch of meetings that take up way too much time is a huge problem in many corporations.  It results in not hitting your marks, staying up late to keep up, and being chronically anxious or frustrated. Forget it. Do everything you can by Skype, email, or a quick phone call. Be sure to have an agenda for every meeting, live or virtual, and ask the question before every one, “What is most important?” Keep that “front of mind” in order to easily release tasks, ideas, and roadblocks that aren’t the priority.

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2.)     Bureaucracy

Just because you’ve always done something a certain way is not an excuse to move forward in that way, especially when there are logical alternatives that will pay greater financial dividends. Continue to rethink and refine your processes and procedures. Startups are nimble enough to change and test ideas quickly, which can have huge implications for your business. Remember to write your business model in Jell-O, not cement (or quicksand).

3.)     Valuing workers, not people

In today’s world, employees must have flexibility in their hours. Make it a goal to honor telecommuting, naps, sabbaticals, and other invaluable perks that show respect to your team as individuals with families and lives. The result will be happier and more productive employees who are deeply loyal to your company and your mission.

Network Your Reputation

Utilize the resources around you to the fullest extent. Read books on entrepreneurship and use the people within your network to provide useful insight for getting your business off the ground. Build an advisory board of industry leaders. Trying to contact and work with celebrities would have proved much more difficult without my previous big-company experience.

Hold fast to the knowledge that your credibility as a startup CEO is nothing without inside knowledge of your corporate client.

 A highly sought-after consultant, mentor, speaker, producer, coach, and author, Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group. She and her team facilitate strategic business opportunities in digital distribution between technology companies, established artists and celebrities, film studios, record labels, and consumer brand companies in order to foster new revenue streams and deliver compelling consumer experiences. Kelli is also the author of the best selling eBook, “The Magic & Moxie of Apple –An Insider’s View.”

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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.


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