Not everyone should start a startup. Most people aren’t cut out for building and leading high growth companies. But, in Europe, there are still a large number of people who could be founders, but who don’t realise what’s possible, or what’s required to build a startup.

A common reason cited by young technologists for not yet starting a startup is that “I want to learn about business before I build my own startup”. Often this means going to work at a big company for a couple of years.

Startups are not small versions of big companies

This is a common misconception - that a big company will teach you about how to build a startup. A big company is not just a super sized version of a startup. Here’s why.

A startup is a creative process

Although the word startup has now been appropriated to mean ‘any new small business’, a startup is a company that is bringing an unknown product, to an unknown customer using an unknown business model. They aren’t using tried and tested methods. This means that building a startup is an inherently creative process. It’s about exploration, testing and discovery.

A big company is an optimisation process

Big companies have a known product, being sold to a known customer using a known business model. This means that instead of a creative process, working in a big company is all about optimisation. It’s about selling more, for cheaper, potentially in new markets.

Big company mindsets can be damaging to startups

In the very early days of building a startup, we have seen founders with big company backgrounds struggle. They are looking for answers that will allow them to begin optimising their processes, before they even know what they are selling or to whom. This leads to the biggest mistake that a startup can make - building something that people don’t want.

Naivety can be a benefit

So before you think of going to develop your ‘business experience’ think about why you are doing this - because it’s not to help you build a startup. Are you badge collecting? Are you keeping your parents happy? Are you too risk averse to be a founder?

We have worked with a wide range of founders from straight out of uni (sometimes pre-uni) all the way through to mid thirties. Naivety about the status quo can be a benefit. I have never heard a graduate founder worry about procurement processes, for example. It’s not that procurement processes aren’t a problem, they are, but if you don’t even know about them it means you can take a creative approach to selling, rather than following an existing (and maybe broken) process.

The best way to learn how to start a startup is to start one

The skills needed to start a startup are very peculiar to being a founder. And the best way to learn these skills is to become a founder. There is no way to learn the skills you need before you start - no course or hackathon is going to teach you what it’s actually like. If you want to build a company, then ask yourself why you haven’t already. It’s likely that you’re just making excuses.

Maybe you don’t have the right idea or co-founder yet. But again, that’s not an excuse, as this is what EF does.

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