At times I feel entrepreneurs are too critical of the corporate world. Sure it involves a lot of grunt work and ass-kissing to move up the corporate ladder, but there are A LOT of benefits to learning from the corporate world that the startup life just doesn’t provide.
At the same time, just because you succeed in the corporate world, by no means does it mean you will succeed as an entrepreneur. The startup life provides no structure, guidance, or training manual (minus the YSE series of course); instead, you’re left to survive trial and error long enough to build a successful company.
Which one you choose should highly depend on the skillset and personality-type that you have. Do you need a structured lifestyle or do you have the ability to set your own goals, tasks, and milestones? Do you need money and prestige now, or do you need to work for something you love or a cause that you believe in? Do you have a massive amount of student loans to pay immediately, or can you move back home for a while and cut back on expenses? Your characteristics and abilities will highly determine the career and life path you take.
So, are you meant to be an entrepreneur or a corporate professional?
1. Do you need structure?
Corporate: You’re told what to wear, what time to work, and what projects you will work on. This of course is for the benefit of the company as a whole – large corporate firms are machines that function because all employees follow the systems and processes that allow the company to run ‘effectively’ and scale. Work two years and you’ll become a Senior Consultant; get an MBA, come back and you’ll become an Associate Director. Every morning you will wake up knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished and how to accomplish it. Corporate provides a safe, structured feel.
Entrepreneurship: You are basically a new-born bird tossed up in the air with no safety net, and you have to learn to fly before you come crashing down onto the floor. The freedom that you enjoy as an entrepreneur comes with a price: you will have to set up all systems and processes by yourself; you will have to train, hire, and fire all employees; you are basically the blind leading the blind, never sure if you’re going in the right direction until you see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are self-motivated and can push yourself to work from home or from a coffee shop, then you might just be able to survive as an entrepreneur.
2. Do you need the prestige?
Corporate: It felt good being a consultant at a top-tier firm in Downtown Los Angeles. You feel like you’ve made it to an ‘elite’ class that provides a solid salary, puts your degree to use, and provides perks like company sponsored sports games and trips. Your friends who don’t make it to top-tier envy your position, and you can spend your money confidently on drinks, cruises, and invest in the market knowing that you have a solid, stable income that you can depend on. If you want to be the son (or daughter) that your parents are proud to show off, then definitely enter the corporate world.
Entrepreneurship: As far a ‘prestigious’ careers go, the unsuccessful entrepreneur is pretty much at the bottom of the rung. My friends don’t understand why I sacrificed a stable salary, I had to move back home to cut costs, and my girlfriend occasionally gets frustrated because I work all the time but have no money to show for it. An entrepreneur chooses the lifestyle not for the fame or money, but because you are pursuing something that you love.
3. Work/life balance
Corporate: As a consultant, I worked 65 hour weeks. I occasionally worked on nights and on Saturdays, but for the most part, I was able to completely remove work from my brain as soon as I left the office. This meant I could eat dinner with my family or go to the movies with my girlfriend in peace, and not have to worry about the company or the projects that I worked on. In general, the corporate world allows you to enjoy your money on weekends or on 2-week vacations every year.
Entrepreneurship: As an entrepreneur, you’ll work Investment Banker hours, but will make a fraction of the money if you’re lucky. It is possible to maintain a work life balance (which we will go over in this series), but be prepared to make your startup the number 1 priority in your life. You’ll work at the gym, when out for drinks with friends, when at dinner with your girlfriend, and every weekend. If you’re not careful and make a proactive effort to separate work from personal life, entrepreneurship will consume you and you’ll become a lonely, hermit of an entrepreneur.
Skill Sets Needed
Corporate: Be awesome at things you hate
I hated making binders, building PowerPoint presentations for others, and QA’ing excel sheets. I not only hated doing it, but I sucked at it. On the other hand, a few of my coworkers hated the work, but they excelled at doing it. They gladly ‘paid their dues’ and have reaped the rewards. If you have the ability to put your head down and grind out the grunt work, then you definitely have the ability to quickly move up the corporate ladder.
Entrepreneurship: Speak with gravitas and be resourceful
Speak with gravitas: to speak with dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner
As an entrepreneur, you need to speak with gravitas or else your team will walk over you and the company will be torn into completely different directions. At times, the marketing officer and technology officer will completely disagree with the business model or company direction. During these times, you will need to make an executive decision, speak firmly and persuasively get your entire team aligned.
There is no training manual for the entrepreneur (besides this series of course). If you have a questions, then you need to proactively find the answer. There is no time to wait around and let the answers come to you; the successful entrepreneur jumps at every chance she gets and takes rather than receives.
1. How old are you?
If you’re a 20-something with no wife or kids and little debt, then by all means go for entrepreneurship. Because you’re young, you have the chance to fail many times without a major negative consequence on your life. If you fail 10 times by the time you’re 28, then you have the opportunity to easily hang the startup hat and put on the corporate suit.
If you’re a 35 year old with a wife and kids and a mortgage, then you should seriously think about the consequences of becoming an entrepreneur. There is just too much at risk to forgo the steady paycheck. My best recommendation is to work on your startup part-time on nights and weekends until you get enough momentum to where you can leave the corporate job and take up the startup full-time.
2. How much debt do you have?
I graduated college with $15,000 in debt. During my 2 years as a full-time entrepreneur, I successfully paid the minimum required monthly payment and didn’t even make a small dent in my student loans. Furthermore, I didn’t have enough money to save up in a Roth IRA or to invest in the market. I was pretty much screwing myself in the long run.
Now that I have a corporate position and I run my startup, I’ve been able to pay my student loans down to $4,000, save up $10,000 in my savings account, and invest $3,000 in my Roth IRA, all in under 6 months. In this series you will learn how I’ve been able to run my startup and build a successful agency at the same time.
If you don’t have the personality type or the skill set to become an entrepreneur, don’t feel discouraged or upset. You could have the personality type and skill set to succeed in the corporate world. Embrace your DNA and take the path that will lead you to success!
Refinance Your Student Loan With SoFi
SoFi is a fantastic social lending company that provides rates as low as 1.9% variable with auto pay and 3.5% fixed with auto pay. The reason why they can offer lower rates than the rest is because they analyze you based on merit, quality of employment, and education besides just a credit score and financials. There is zero origination and prepayment fees. Offer terms are from 5, 10, 15, 20 years in both fixed and variable. Both private and public student loans can be refinanced.
Besides low rates, one of their best features is their unemployment benefits. If you lose your job while repaying your loans, you don’t have to pay your loan for up to 12 months while you look for a new job! Interest will still accrue, but having this cash flow break is a huge benefit. They also provide job assistance guidance as well.
You can apply to refinance or apply for a new student loan here.
Updated for 2018 and beyond
Down But Not Out Entrep says
Jun, you are right about the “35 year old with wife and kids” but I nevetheless went head on like a “new born bird tossed in the air and have to learn to fly before crashing down.” I did take short courses on entrepreneurship and the biz that I was planning then before I resigned from a large pharmaceutical company. One thing constant in life though–whatever you have planned is not always what will actually happen. I crashed and burned. Have to take a day job again like a bitter over sized pill. But now at 38, I’m terribly at the crossroads. With resources dwindling down, I’m torn between engaging in business again or firing up the old resume again for better pay (which is now becoming excruciatingly difficult because of my age AND my mindset). I’m obssessed with pursuing my dream but weighed down by the fact that my kids are growing…and so are the expenses…I could really use talking with people with the same predicament as I am because that takes away at least in part the “phenomenal stress” while still keeping the creative juice flowing…
right know I’m feel in a position where I was married with 1 child, and I agree with the main job and went part time job or maybe a job at the end of the week. but what about the desire or feel the pain. but how can i increase my life is it “Solve a Pain or Follow Your Passion?” could you please advice guy’s
Adventure-Some Matthew says
I’m fortunate to be in the position that I am currently: I’m married, and am currently building my student loans (and don’t have to pay on them since I’m still in school). I can devote my free-time to building a business (soon as I figure out what I want to do) and not have to worry too much about income as my demands aren’t too great.
I don’t care for any of the corporate jobs I’ve had to date, so entrepreneur-ship seems the route for me. However, I value the time I spent at those jobs for the lessons I learned: how good systems work and bad ones don’t, the importance of communication, the true value of good employees and how hard they can be to find, customers first! and so much more.
Financial Samurai says
Perhaps if those who fail to make it in corporate america have no other choice but to be an entrepreneur? What % of people do you think hate working for corporate America because they couldn’t get into corporate America?
Anybody can say they are an entrepreneur, but not everybody can say that have a corporate job.
If McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Google, Goldman etc gave a 22 year old college grade a $65,000 base and $35,000 year end bonus…. I’m pretty sure a large majority would take it. The problem is, the best jobs in America only hire a very few people.
I do believe the best is to do both!
Bro, if I had got into McKinsey or Google, I definitely would have taken it and stayed there. That is prestigious, you learn A LOT, and you come out looking like GOLD.
Unfortunately, I got the interview but didn’t make it past first rounds 😛
Financial Samurai says
It’s brutal to try to get into these firms, especially in a recession. It’s kinda like winning the lottery in a way. Things should get better with this economic rebound though!
It’s misguided to say that people choosing an entrepreneurial path couldn’t make it in the corporate world. It seems that many of the people commenting on this post have experienced those “best jobs.” Most have “made it” in corporate America, and didn’t like what they saw. Having had one of the “best jobs in America” (the kind TV shows are made of), I can say that I did make it, and didn’t like what I saw; I didn’t like what the future held. It’s true, that if I hadn’t had the jobs I did in the corporate world, I might still wonder if those were indeed the “best jobs in America.” And, as Jun pointed out, I have a great skill set thanks to those jobs, a skill set that would have been much harder to attain without the corporate jobs. You’re right, do both. But, to assume that people choosing an entrepreneurial path simply because they “couldn’t make it” is simply wrong.
The idea of this site is to get rid of templates in our lives. There are a lot of different paths out there, a lot of “best jobs,” and we should all be creating those for ourselves, not following a template (whether the template of a corporate job, or the template of a location independent entrepreneurial venture).
Financial Samurai says
It was a suggestion, not an assumption. Because of the downturn, it’s been brutal to get those particularly desirable jobs, hence a natural extension of this movement.
The best job is frankly whatever you want that makes you happy.
I’m still not sure that I have the personality type to become an entrepreneur but I’m going to try it anyway because I hated the corporate life and I feel I’m too much of a free bird for the 9 to 5. Because I’m young and single and have no risks. Because I’m moving to Asia where the cost of living is much cheaper in hopes to get myself situated/sustainable for the year that I’m there. It should be an interesting year..
“As far a ‘prestigious’ careers go, the unsuccessful entrepreneur is pretty much at the bottom of the rung.”
That depends on what you define as success.. for me, pursuing something I love is MUCH more successful than being miserable and rich. I don’t think I’m motivated to “make it” as an entrepreneur, just as long as I’m happy, and can live comfortably (ie keep up with bills).
I define “prestigious” as something that is extremely hard to accomplish and that other people envy.
I don’t doubt that a person may “love” working and crafting pots for example, but that is definitely not a prestigious career in my eyes or my friend’s eyes who are consultants, bankers, and accountants.
Good luck with your venture and please do let me know how it goes!
Craig A Gonzales says
Great post! You are right that a lot of young entrepreneurs have very negative things to say about the corporate world. Of my current group, many are hopeful entrepreneurs, some are very successful entrepreneurs, and still others are very successful corporate so-and-so’s.
Even though you mentioned the good and bad of corporate work and entrepreneurship, you still fairly consistently painted the corporate world in a negative light. (show off for parents, work you hate, needing to be told what to do [ structure ]). While the corporate world is not okay for some of us (two months ago I quit a very comfortable Director position!), I wouldn’t go so far as to paint it in such a negative light.
Either way, it will be exciting reading the rest of your writing; you have really come a long way.
PS. Thanks for the kind words re: Cody’s theme. I’ll be changing it, and my personal blog. My tutoring site will move to a new domain to gain respect and recognition in Bangkok (Thai’s don’t dig on the MyNameTutor.com!)
Great article! I worked corporate for a few years, paid off my debts, saved and invested some money and now have taken the plunge into entrepreneurial land.
I am happy that I did the stint in corporate land first because now, if I fail, (which I wont :P) I have a skill set I can fall back on and easily re-enter the corporate world. A nice emotional cushion. Plus I learned lots while building some capital.
The hardest part for me – loosing the prestige. But a 6 week trip around South East Asia where I roughed it in cold showers and bucket toilets with 3 changes of clothes – while having the time of my life – shattered my limiting belief that prestige = good lifestyle.
Looking forward to the rest of the series!
Jane Williams says
This article is very good… nice to read…
Ben J Barra says
Excerpt from a post I wrote today…
“I spent another day in cubicle nation. The better part of my afternoon was devoted to cleaning up my workspace which has been woefully neglected since I moved in. That was by far the most useful thing I did in my eight hours of seat time. I continue to try to find ways to create unique and beautiful things in a color-by-the-number environment. Slamming my head against a wall?”
A lot of what you wrote here resonated with me on both sides of the equation. There are plenty of things I enjoy about my salaried position. Steady paycheck. Great benefits. Know exactly what I need to do to get paid. Yet, I feel like I put on a mask every morning in order to “earn” these things. I’m not me. I go from being Ben to being Employee#123456 for the 40 hours per week of my life I trade for the implied security of a “good job.”
I’m torn about staying or leaving. My finance and I (27 & 25 respectively) both have a significant amount of student loans that we’re working hard to pay off. We’ve spent the past year building up a 6-month emergency fund and aggressively reducing our expenses to the point of being able to throw an extra $1000/month our loans and it still seems like we still have such a long way to go.
The creative side of me wants to stop paying the extra, save up for the rest of this year (we’re committed to being here at least one more year) and then strike out on our own. The logical part of me wants to grind it out until we’re completely debt free (which would probably take another two to three years) before making the leap.
I’m trying to learn everything I can while continuing to fight this internal battle.
Jun Loayza says
Ben, thanks for your honesty.
I’ll be reading your blog to see how things are going for you.
GOod luck and please do stay in touch!
Ben J Barra says
Woo! I think you’ll be my first visitor other than my fiance.
Currently the blog is serving primarily as a thought dump and public tracker for my 6changes project (via Leo @ Zenhabits). Once I get moving out of the way next weekend I’ll be devoting some serious time to getting it cleaned up and start moving it towards its intended purpose.
Good comment. (and good post, Jun).
I was going to comment something similar. My first thought was: “Jun, you’ve templated what you THINK start-up-ism / entreprenership is!”. We all create our own templates and that’s what this site (I’m sure), and your mantra is all about. You smartly said, “we could be our readers, and our readers could be us” in your recent team interview with Monica. Don’t be afraid to admit we all work on custom templates.
I am about to enter an entrepreneur-esque situation that I can’t talk about yet. Actually, when you see me mention it on twitter than that means I’m allowed/ready to comment and work on it. It’s a template invented by me and with the help of my current employer. I’m not afraid to say it’s a template, but it’s a layered, broad one that will flex and bend. Yes I’m an entrepreneur, in fact my employer has allowed me to be one for the past year or more.
I guess I have a corporate / company job like no other. No suits here.
I look forward to more posts. Template, untemplate. It’s all up to your needs.
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
I enjoyed the post. Like a lot of the other posters, I was worried that this was mostly going to be a pro-entrepreneur rant. Instead it was a little more balanced. It still feels anti-“corporate” where the moral of the story seems to be “go corporate if your not cut out for entrepreneurship” A “corporate” job is going to mean different things to different people, and is going to be a different experience depending on where you are and what level you are.
I’ve worked in a government office, for an insurance company, a school, a start-up, a farm, and ran my own business. One company (two including mine) has gone under, another is stuggling, and another has grown. I’ve worked outdoors, in cubicles, an open office space, in a classroom, and out of my car. I’ve worked by myself, for small (under 10 employees) companies, mid-size, (50-100), and large (1000+). I’ve taught, sold, collected, delivered, farmed, and accounted (is that a word?). I worked the longest hours at the farm (no other job ever had hours over 40/week). The job I hated the most was at the school (I changed my major after that experience). And the job I performed worst was my own business. If ever go into business for myself again, the first thing I’m doing is hiring a salesperson to do my sales for me.
My point is that it does a great disservice to readers to paint every job where you work for someone else as a faceless, emotionless corporate giant and tell them that they have to decide between that and entrepreneurship.
Of course, the other issue about choosing the path of entrepreneurship… you have to have an idea to sell! One of the reasons my business failed is because i didn’t have enough differentiation. There was really no compelling reason to buy from me instead of my hundreds of compeititors, which came to include Fortune 500 companies. So if you don’t have something new, a new product, a new way of doing something; I recommend against starting your own business.
Jun Loayza says
Thanks for the thoughtful post Edward.
My post is NOT a generalization of the corporate and startup worlds; rather, it is a reflection of my personal experience.
Sounds like you have some very diverse experience! What has made you do so many things in your life? I’m all for “the Dip,” which Seth Godin describes, but sooner or later you have to find what you’re the best in the world in.
All the best to you and I promise my series will be very actionable steps about how to succeed as an entrepreneur 🙂
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
As I wrote on my blog (http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com/2009/12/entry-level-dilemma.html), I originally went to college to become a teacher. When that didn’t work out, I dropped out and kind of drifted for a while, employment wise. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do and to finish school.
Nathan Schmitt says
I want to let you know how much I like this article–I’m an undergrad, about a year and a half away from graduating, and I’m working pretty hard at figuring out how to do what I love and pay off my debt while I still have some time behind the gates. Your pros/cons were very helpful (bookmarked) though I’m trying to avoid office work altogether; I have no problem with it other than that 9-5 drives me, personally, crazy. I’m pretty new to the blog world but it seems to have by far the best content relevant to my goal so I’m very excited about interacting with the community. I’m familiar with tim ferriss, gary vaynerchuk, kevin rose, zen habits, GTD, and a few others, but any recommendations you could give, especially blogs, would be greatly appreciated.
Sam Davidson says
Very well done. You clearly and accurately describe both the corporate and start up worlds and speak as someone who’s done both. A lot of people try to talk about this stuff and just assume that going solo is the best (only) option. But, life is more complicated than that. I’ve been corporate, an entrepreneur, and now and back in the corporate world while maintaining my startup on the weekends and in the early mornings. With a daughter on the way and debt to take care of, it’s the best bet for me.
Jun Loayza says
Sam, I’m a big fan of your blog. Makes me happy to see you on here.
Sounds like your path is very similar to mine, minus the daughter (give me a few years to catch up). I was in the corporate world, went full-fledged entrepreneur, and now have a corporate job and run my startup full time as well.
Making a big move to Mountain View, so the startup life is going to slap me in the face in Feb. Can’t wait!!!
Sam Davidson says
Wow – Mountain View, huh? Keep us posted in that exciting new environment. There’s a chance I’ll be out west in May. Hopefully we can meet up.
Ian Nuttall says
I’m right there with you, Sam. Daughter due in March and I’m juggling corporate hoop jumping with startup shenanigans.
What time are you up at these days? I’m starting out at 5.30am and working backwards as appropriate!
Really informative article, Jun. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone and I think you captured the essence of both worlds.
Sam Davidson says
I awake most days at 5:30, work until 7:30 and then go for a jog and then into the office. I also put in hours on Sundays. But, when I have a child, that will (should) change.
Jun Loayza says
To jump in on this fun convo:
Wake up 6:00am
Work on corporate job: 7am – 1pm
Gym it up: 1-3pm (including shower and snack)
Startup work: 8pm – 12am
I try to mix it up as much as possible
Sam, hit me up and we’ll definitely meet up
Ian Nuttall says
My day is very similar. 5.30 start, work for a couple hours then a workout before work.
Then own business stuff in the evenings. As Sam says though, once el bebe arrives, things will most certainly change!
Great post. It’s refreshing to see some positive, or at least balanced, view of the big firm/corporate gig. In the lifestyle design world, there is too much corporate bashing going on. Not all of it is bad, and not everyone is unhappy. In the right environment, there is room for the entrepreneurial spirit. Especially today, when people don’t stay with the same company for 30 years, anyone that wants to succeed needs to embody a bit of the entrepreneur. The path is just more clearly marked for the corporate professional.
Jun Loayza says
Definitely with you on this one. Too much corporate bashing, when the corporate world actually gives you some amazing skill sets.
The ability to understand how systems work is a big one. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to end up doing all the work yourself without delegating tasks to other people. The corporate world shows you how to do this and be able to scale very large.
Love the images on your site
Thank you for this post Jun! I was worried this blog would be a bit too enthusiastic on entrepreneur or nothing, without recognizing there are trade-offs. Stability is a huge thing, and why many people choose the corporate route. If running a startup is going to run you into the ground physically and mentally, I can’t see that being a good or productive path. I must admit I’m inclined toward joining a small startup to get some experience and gauge how well I would do running the whole thing. Luckily for me I happen to be in Seattle, so that shouldn’t be too difficult!
Again, cheers for the openness, and keep the good stuff coming!
Jun Loayza says
Seattle has a great startup community. If you happen to meet Neil Patel, really awesome entrepreneur, let him know I said “hi!”
What kind of startup are you looking to join?
I’m scouting out the territory so to speak, so at this point I’m open to just about anything web-based, as that’s where I have the most experience and knowledge. I recently finished my undergrad and started working for an environmental consulting firm and realized I can’t stand working with the EPA and all the red tape. So now I’m looking to jump ship into a more dynamic, enjoyable environment. That said, I’m still looking for a salary independent of the startup’s profitability until I can save up a little money and finish paying off loans. Thus your article came at a very appropriate time for me as I attempt to gain a happy medium of the corporate and startup worlds for the time being. We’ll see how that goes.
great article, im still working in cubicle nation, working on that student loan part. I would agree that the biggest thing holding me back from making the leap of faith are those loans loaming over my head.
Jun Loayza says
Yea, those loans really suck. I’m paying off a lot per month and they still seem to only be decreasing little by little.
I’m 24, and sometimes I feel like an old soul out here. But if I take a step back and really think about it, I’m young and have all the time in the world (time is actually your enemy but more on this later).
Don’t feel rushed to leave your job immediately. If you must, wait until you have completely paid off your loans. Emotionally stability is one of the most important factors in a successful entrepreneur.