How do consultants fit into start-ups? Start-ups are all the rage. Since we started measuring industry preferences at Movemeon, their popularity among consultants as a destination to move on to has grown.
But how can consultants make the leap? What skills transfer? How do start-ups really work? How do you land a job in one? All very common questions that get thrown at us all the time. Questions that are really hard to answer unless you have an inside view.
Here we hosted an event at the Uber office in Sydney. We brought together 4 ‘start-up gurus’:
- Rich — Co-Founder, Movemeon
- David — Country GM, Uber, Aus & NZ
- Adam — MD, The ICONIC
- Rebecca — the 4th employee at Karl Lagerfeld
The panellists had deliberately different experiences across tech, tech-enabled and non-tech. Series A to series C. Domestic to international. Here they are!
We invited 50 consultants / ex-consultants to ask them the nitty-gritty questions. Topped up with some beers, wine & party food, here are some of the things we learned.
How to know when your startup idea is worth quitting your job
Rebecca suggested pitching your idea to your 15 smartest friends and if one said no, to keep your day job. Adam took it a step farther and said there’s a right way and a wrong way to pitch.
You’ll always think your idea is good but in the early stages, it’s invaluable good to get advice and feedback. Oh and don’t show up with an NDA to a pitch among friends (this has happened to Rich).
Dave suggested that joining a high growth startup — particularly as a founder in a new market — can make you a manager/owner of a company, while still having the safety net of additional resources behind you. It’s also a furtive ground to develop your own ideas & learn the skills you need to succeed with your own idea.
What start-ups really value in consultants
There was a lot of agreement on the panel here:
(1) data analysis. Start-ups are very kpi focused. Adam talked about being laser-focused on moving 1 KPI beyond everything else. The ability of consultants to analyse a lot of data really quickly shouldn’t be underestimated (not many backgrounds give someone this tool).
(2) solving problems. Thinking stuff through in a logical, step by step way is an obvious skill of consultants. And in environments that are rapidly changing and feel chaotic, this structure among ambiguity is super helpful.
What consultants really need to develop to be successful in start-ups
Adam and Dave talked about needing to learn how to manage. Even if you’ve been a manager in consulting, working in a business with real ownership (p&l) is a steep learning curve. Adam talked about hiring consultants into more solo roles before migrating them into managerial positions once they’re more comfortable.
Rich and Rebecca talked about having a ‘get sh*t’ done mindset & following that through. Startups are a lot less about the thinking, and a lot more about the execution. Consulting is almost the opposite.
The biggest failing of consultants interviewing at start-ups is answering questions theoretically (“I’d segment the market”, “I’d do some customer research”) and overlooking the really, simple, obvious, hands on answer.
What type of start-up should consultants join?
All the panellists talked about needing to be passionate about the product. Have true belief in its potential. Don’t waste your time working somewhere that doesn’t excite you. Startups can be all consuming, so if this passion isn’t there, you’ll run out of steam pretty quickly.
Dave, Adam and Rebecca all talked about needing to be inspired by the team; and in particular, the leadership. Startups can be quite small environments, so you need to feel comfortable and believe in the culture and the values that develop.
Rich talked pragmatically about the type of start-ups that are most likely to hire you straight out of consulting (200+ VC backed companies hire through movemeon so there are a lot of data points there). In super early start-ups, it’s likely you duplicate the skill set of the founders. They’ll be hiring for core functions like marketing, sales & product. So look for start-ups that are proven but rapidly scaling. At that point, they set about growing into new markets (leads to strategy & business development hires and new country/city GMs) and getting more sophisticated about their operations (e.g, business intelligence hires).
How do you go about joining a start-up?
Finding a start-up job can be a full-time job. You’ll want to meet a lot of people to discover start-ups that are hiring and find one you’re really passionate about. Ultimately, you will need to take a leap of faith — Adam talked about his to-ing and fro-ing in weighing up his options when asked to start THE ICONIC.
Dave covered off his experience heading over to silicon valley for an MBA and some invaluable experience in the home of start-ups. Rich talked about being realistic about what you can achieve in 1 move and being strategic about a series of moves that will get you where you want to go in the long run (i.e, you’re very rarely going to find your perfect job in a start-up straight out of consulting; but you may get to it after a couple of moves once your in the startup space).
Think of it as a game of chess rather than an all or nothing penalty kick. Ultimately, the panel all agreed that you’re going to need to put the day job on the back burner and commit to making the move if you’re going to make it happen. Freelance consulting is a great part-time option to cover your rent while you commit to discovering the perfect opportunity.
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