When I was leaving McKinsey & Co, I knew that I wanted to build a startup.

I was, and still am, very ambitious. I like working really hard and know whatever job I do, I’m happy for it to take up the majority of my waking hours. Building a startup was a way to not only get the satisfaction of creating something from scratch, but to realise my potential. There would be no hierarchy, no doing it for the sake of the business, no pointless work just because a manager said so.

Startup office

But instead of beginning a startup, I looked for a job.

Why? It felt risky.

  1. Startups fail. If you say you’re going to build a startup, most people’s response is that 90 percent of startups fail.
  2. It felt risky to leave a prestigious company. It gave me social approval?—?both from my peers and potential employers.
  3. It felt risky to turn down the job I had just been offered at Google. And my peers kept on telling me how lucky I was and how excited they were for me?—?“Think of the free food!”.

But these are terrible reasons not to start a startup.

  1. That means that 10 percent succeed and you should back yourself to be in that 10 percent. You don’t have to be in the 90 percent.
  2. Why does social proof matter? Why would you let other people’s standards dictate your life and career?
  3. But I wasn’t excited by the job at Google. I wanted to build a startup, so why would I invest time doing anything other than that?

tldr; I left McKinsey, turned down Google and created Entrepreneur First with my co-founder Matt Clifford.

That was my story, but at Entrepreneur First we see this decision making process every day. Whether it’s a PhD wondering whether to turn down their Google/Facebook/Palantir/insert-other-big-tech-co offer, or whether it’s a dev wondering whether to turn down their big promotion to make the jump.

Startup vs Corporates

If you ask anyone who works at a big tech company what’s great about their job, they’re likely to say: 'cool offices with special sleep pods', 'free food including those really expensive whole food snacks', or that the founder speaks to the company once a week.

If these are the best parts of your job, isn’t it confusing that none of them are to do with the actual job?

These are peripheral benefits. These arehygiene factors, things that stop you from being dissatisfied, but do they really give you deep job satisfaction?

Having had these fancy benefits in the past, they weren’t enough for me. They didn’t give me real satisfaction.

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory sums this up nicely. He argues that job satisfaction comes from motivators: "e.g. challenging work, recognition for one’s achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organistion”.

What struck me reading these is that these motivators are the core elements to being a founder. You can access some of these elements in corporates, but it’s often surface level. It’s often there because the corporate knows this is what you need to feel satisfied.

In contrast, as a founder, you have:

  • challenging work. A startup is about bringing something to existence that hasn’t existed before. To be able to do this you will be challenging the status quo and being highly challenged in return. Being a founder is a continuous and steep learning curve.
  • recognition for one’s achievement. You won’t have the annual review and promotion, but you will have a deep sense of fulfilment from what you are achieving as a founder.
  • responsibility. The buck stops with you. You’re ultimately responsible for your team, your investors and your customers.
  • the opportunity to do something meaningful. You choose the problem you are working on that has meaning to you.
  • involvement in decision making. You are the primary decision maker and are determining what your company should do on a micro and macro level.
  • sense of importance to an organisation. As the founder, you are central to the organisation and how it functions.

Founding a startup isn’t for everyone. Some will read that list and be worried by how hard that sounds. But if you read it and can’t imagine spending the majority of your life working somewhere where that isn’t true, then what are you waiting for?