6 tips on how to break into the start-up scene and land your dream job (from COO at Pockit)
Ben moved into a COO role at fintech start up Pockit after four and a half years at Bain. Pockit is a FinTech 50 company focusing on becoming the world’s most inclusive bank by offering simple banking services to groups historically ignored or exploited by other providers (and has just hired a Senior Operations Manager through Movemeon!). If you are growing your team and looking for someone with the consulting skills set get in touch and we’ll let you know how we can help.
If you asked most management consultants what they would want in a post-consulting career (beyond work days less than 16 hours), some common responses would be “a fast-growing start-up and “something operational.” Admirable goals both, and plentiful right now in London. However, no two fast-growing start-up operational roles are the same! So how to decide what’s right for you and how to get it?
There are a lot of potential considerations to make when considering a start-up company, including:
As a consultant, are you the sort who is more interested in solving the problem regardless of industry, or are you attracted to issues in specific sectors? If the latter, then sector is a very important consideration – a FinTech start-up is looking to solve very different problems from a retail marketplace, and your role would be very different as well, regardless of function.
What is the company’s stage of growth?
A seed or series A company (typically the first two years of a company’s existence) will usually be testing the concept, have few employees (less than 25), less established roles and culture, and be building up everything from scratch. A Series C has typically proven its viability, and is now focused on international expansion or new product launches. While there’s more stability/less risk, there are also much more defined roles and probably a more corporate culture, which might not be appealing to some. In considering where you want to end up, you need to think about how important structure and stability are to you or whether you want to be on the ground floor of a project, building the foundation for the future.
What does “operational” mean?
Typically, consultants distinguish between “strategic” roles, meaning a focus on high-level recommendations without actually “getting their hands dirty,” and “operational” roles where they can execute and implement. Start-ups offer all sorts of opportunities to be hands-on, but they can range from growth positions focusing on sales and marketing, to pure operations roles involving ensuring the company’s core functions like finance or development are running smoothly. For example, in Pockit (the company I work for) our operations team comprises Customer Service, Finance & Analytics, Logistics, and Fraud, and is responsible for all non-sales and tech development oversight. If you have a particular functional interest, you should definitely focus there, rather than on the broader “operational” space.
So you’ve now narrowed down sector, growth stage, and desired role, how do you get a job?
Do your research
If you don’t have a specific company or sector focus, keep it general and broad. There are multiple publications like Tech Crunch, Business Insider, and Venturebeat as well as Movemeon all focused on start-ups, and publishing numerous articles daily. Read those sites, as surely there will be a company profiled that will catch your interest, and when it does, research it extensively and write the founders! Maybe there isn’t a defined role yet, but if you can speak with them and make your interest clear, they can keep you in mind when something opens up, or create something for you directly.
If you have a specific sector interest, there will almost certainly be reports or conferences about it, so read as much as possible and compile a list of interesting companies, and then research those.
Use your network
As a consultant, your personal and professional network is probably full of smart, ambitious people doing interesting things, including start-ups. Make your interests clear to your network, and see if they know anyone relevant. This definitely worked for me; I had always been interested in exploring private sector solutions for social problems and constantly mentioned this to friends. One day a colleague from Bain connected me to the CEO of Pockit, which is trying to become the world’s most inclusive bank by offering simple banking solutions to the financially excluded. We had a few chats, and he then invited me to interview for a role, an opportunity I never would have had were it not for my network.
Your network doesn’t have to just mean friends and close co-workers, you can define network quite loosely. If there are sectors or companies you’re interested in, monitor LinkedIn closely and contact any 2nd degree connections who might have an in.
Emphasize the operational
No matter how you spin it, a management consultant doesn’t have operational experience, being inside a business and really driving it forward. Maybe you did a long implementation project, maybe you worked very closely with clients, and maybe, just maybe you actually got to see the results of your recommendations – you still don’t have operational experience. Don’t worry! If you’re being interviewed by someone remotely familiar with management consultants, they’ll know you lack the experience, and instead be looking to see how transferable your skill set is to the business.
The good news is your skill set is transferable! The best way to sell it in an interview is to get away from the high-level strategic overviews, and really emphasize those projects or roles where you owned the answer and drove results. How did you coordinate between functions? How did you stakeholder manage upwards and downwards to ensure your recommendations were accepted and then implemented? What tangible results did you (not the team) drive?
If you don’t have professional experience that could demonstrate your operational abilities, surely something extracurricular would work – have you ever organized something intricate, like a ball or charity event? Have you ever started something up yourself and seen it through to completion? Think it through, as the more you can shape your experience to demonstrate a relevant skillset, the more attractive you’ll be in the interview.
Finding a good role in an interesting company is not an easy task, but the opportunities are out there. When I think of my peer group at Bain, there are probably about ten people across different start-ups, all in different roles ranging from growth to operations, and all enjoying their experience. If you’re focused and clear on what you want and what you can offer, the roles will materialize.
– by Ben
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy articles by our other guest contributors:
1. Quentin’s series of articles about Private Equity gives you an overview of what it means to make the transition from consultancy into private equity.
2. And Alex gives you his very honest opinion on looking for a job in a start-up as a consultant.
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