On the one hand, I feel a strong tug towards the “Silicon Valley dream” of entrepreneurship. Friends of mine like Charles Ju, Founder and CEO of PlayMesh, the maker of one of the top iPhone games out there (iMafia) are living that dream – driven by one’s passions and one’s desire to engineer a product/service/technology to change the world – and heck, maybe get wealthy while you’re at it. It’s that drive which has pushed me to work with my buddies on projects like Xhibitr and Benchside.
On the other hand, I also feel a strong pull towards the corporate strategy world which I currently am involved in at my day job. The work is more stable (in the sense that I’m usually not dependent on the next round of funding for my livelihood), and the issues one explores are more strategic. It’s not desperately asking “will someone PLEASE buy my product?” or “how do I improve my product without spending any money because I’m out of cash?”. It’s literally answering “how do I shape an industry?” and “how do I change our business processes to be more responsive to customer needs?”
What makes the soul-searching all the more difficult is how different the two things are, and how different the people who work in each are. It makes it hard to just take the advice of friends like Charles or Serena who tell me to jump ship and head for startup-infested waters.
For starters, I’ve noticed that there are very different skills involved in the two groups. Big corporate strategy guys are more likely to value things like analysis (e.g., do the models support the proposed strategy? do we have the right numbers? what does that do to our cash and margin position?) and gameboarding (e.g., how will Microsoft or Google or Intel or Cisco react? how do the tech trends affect us/get shaped by us? who are the strategic partners/enemies who will care most about this?). I’ve found startup guys to more value execution over strategy (e.g., can we ship on time? can we get it done?) and boldness over analysis (e.g. is our product cool enough? will people care?)
This is not to say that big business guys don’t value execution or boldness, or that startup guys have no sense for analysis or gameboarding. And this is not even to say that either side is unreasonable. After all, startups need to execute before they worry about a perfect strategy, and big companies need to defend their sizable profit pool before they bet on a new one.
But that dynamic oftentimes frustrates me. When I’m doing the corporate strategy stuff, I grow frustrated at the conservatism and lack of boldness and progress. I am bothered by the bureaucracy and the lack of value placed on my scientific/technical knowledge.
And yet, when I talk with startup guys, I am troubled by what I see as a lack of emphasis on analysis and strategic thinking. I’m concerned that the heavy focus on execution and boldness traps them into bad decision cycles. I see an almost callous disregard of things which all big companies do as a matter-of-practice (e.g. legal, business development, and HR issues). And, to be perfectly honest, the lack of resources to fund anything (let alone the pretty decent salary I’ve come to expect) is not an exciting proposition either.
And so here I am. Stuck between a big company and a startup place, and not quite sure how much longer before I get crushed.