Navigating the move from enterprise executive to VP of Sales or Chief Revenue Officer is not for the faint of heart. However, for successful managers, the disruptive nature of startups can be cathartic.
You are probably a lot like me. You went from an individual contributor or a front-line sales manager for a big company with lots of resources to a team lead at a small company with limited resources. A sales manager at a major corporation and an executive at a startup may seem like they have more differences than similarities, but experience in the former helps inform the latter.
For executives considering doing this move (or if you have already made the jump), this move is wide open with opportunity. Here’s how to take advantage of it.
Know Your ‘Why’
The grass is not always greener. Small companies are not a reprieve from corporate life; they live on the razor’s edge of “scale or die.” Time and mediocrity are enemies. Small companies typically move fast to create solutions that can scale across industries and sectors.
In this environment, it’s important to have a “why.” The “why” is different for every executive — and truthfully, it can be quite personal. Some questions executives may want to ask themselves while considering the move include:
- Do I want to build solutions to problems I’ve encountered throughout my career?
- Do I want to get back to creating?
Find Your ‘Who’
I was introduced to my last startup by one of their Board members that I have known for years. When I met the CEO, I found that we shared similar industry observations, and I found myself excited about his market vision, company, and approach.
If you are joining an existing founder, you have a lot of research that you must do and it won’t be as easy as joining a big company with a lot of documentation. Research the company beyond financials, business model, product, and technology. Understand the startup’s culture; invest time and effort into exploring whether the executive-partner relationship can build a foundation for mutual success.
Assess Your Industry Expertise
Startups should meet or beat milestones, and the industry expertise of their leaders can be a driving force to provide rigor. Executives must self-assess how deep and how broad their industry knowledge is. Do you fully understand the ecosystem and how you can help a startup impact, and potentially lead, that industry? Can you bring market vision, build strategic partnerships, drive maturation in existing products, expand the book of business, develop talent, deepen customer relationships, or create operational efficiencies to enable faster growth?
Fight Through Ambiguity
There is no room in a small company for executives who are unwilling or unable to be operational and visionary. It is not possible to understate the level of foresight, flexibility, and agility required in this environment.
You must continuously recalibrate your approach to operational efficiency, as working with limited resources forces me to ensure I am creating value at every turn.
Within many large companies, the Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things” doesn’t necessarily translate. Large companies have the resources, money and institutional support unavailable to start-ups, but they rarely have the focus to solve industry-sized problems. And they must measure and manage risk daily.
Further, while startups are relatively flat, large corporations are highly matrixed. In order to be a successful sales executive, it’s imperative to build relationships across departments. People need to trust that moving forward will benefit them.
Any executive joining a startup should focus on the value they create as an individual. What do you bring, above and beyond the job for which you were hired? Ask yourself if you have the emotional quotient (EQ), for example, to serve as a translator to the enterprise on how to evaluate product fit while coaching a startup team on how best to work within enterprise processes for implementation. That’s creating value for both sides.
Get Accustomed To The New Normal
Velocity and focus are the new normal. You must create more with less, fast and with laser-focus on impact. Small companies can accomplish more in weeks than a large company could do in years, if at all. However, that rapid advancement can easily cause the company to go into disarray. It is simply not enough to have velocity, you need to have velocity towards your goals as a company.