Timing is everything in life. A couple of weeks ago, we explored the definition of entrepreneurship and asked ourselves whether we were natural or nurtured entrepreneurs.
So, let's assume that deep down, at the core of who you are, you know you are one of them: a natural-born entrepreneur, destined to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. You doubt that you will adjust easily to the corporate way of life for good, because, it must be said, can be constraining and frustrating at so many different levels, but you've started your career at a multinational, and now you're thinking about going it alone.
So what is the best way? How should you go about it? When do you leave? Fortunately, there are no right or wrong answers, just different strategies.
If you acknowledge that the corporate world is a great environment at least for one thing - learning - then start there. University teaches you how to think, but your work experience will teach you how to work. Corporations are fantastic training machines; just research the GE graduate program or Shell’s and you will see what I mean. They help you build solid foundations for success. They build up your technical skills and introduce you to the importance of structured thinking and process; they acquaint you with efficiency.
They show you the meaning of leadership, exposing you to many different styles. You can then create your own, by picking and mixing. They multiply experiences for you from one department to the other, or one business unit to another, planting the seeds for a frame of reference that is as wide as possible.
Corporations also have a serious pool of expert resources that you can endlessly draw upon. You’ve got a tax question? Pick up the phone to the tax guru. How to value a company? Sneak into the business development team. Want to negotiate? Have a coffee with the top sales guy. And how to motivate a team? (Hopefully) observe your line manager.
Observe, learn, choose what to do and what not to do. If you are curious and driven, you will learn fast. If you are talented and malleable, you will move up fast. This does all sound like an ode to corporations, and it is, because above anything else, corporations allow you to develop in a safe environment, without major consequences for failures, with the added bonus of a useful network for you to possibly draw upon at a later stage.
So when is the right time to exit?
This, luckily, has an easy answer: when you think it is right for you! When you feel you have learnt enough to spread your wings and take a leap of faith. When you feel ready, and, of course, when you have an idea! If you really can't face life in the office, there is no harm in jumping straight in, but do it with humility and patience and never do it alone.
Ensure you have the right mix of people to help and guide you: technical experts and business-savvy individuals - reach out for multiple advisors and other board members that will bring you what you may lack, especially maturity, business experience and a healthy dose of cynicism.
As Chris Barez-Brown said, "Remember, business is just an experiment, not an exact science".